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‘I Don’t See Any Stigma': Father Fights Suicide In Black Community After Son’s Death

Joseph Feaster Jr. with a portrait of his son Joseph Feaster III. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Joseph Feaster Jr. with a portrait of his son Joseph Feaster III. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Joseph Feaster Jr. is not a minister. He’s a successful Boston attorney. But for the last five years he’s been doing a lot of preaching about a subject close to his heart.

“My ministry right now, because it’s even more personal — it involves my son — is around mental health,” Feaster says. “And if I can help the next person to understand it, to get through it, that’s my being.”

His son carried his name and was thereby Joseph Feaster III. He died by suicide in 2010, at the age of 27.

His death came at a triple-decker on Elmore Street in Roxbury, not far from Dudley Square. That’s where he had lived most of his life — first with his parents and sister, and then renting an apartment from his father.

His father recalls lots of times going with Joseph to Horatio Harris Park, less than a block from the family’s home. The elder Feaster doesn’t remember any signs of mental illness in his son as a child.

“No, not at all. I mean, he was a happy kid,” Feaster recalls. “He played here. He climbed the structures here. He would be with his sister and her friends. And he had a great smile.” Continue reading

‘It's No Longer Dark': Suicide Attempt Survivors Share Messages Of Hope

Mary Esther Rohman tried to take her own life many times when she was younger. But now, she's in a very different place. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Mary Esther Rohman tried to take her own life many times when she was younger. But now, she’s in a very different place. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Mary Esther Rohman, of Belmont, knows what it means to hit rock bottom — or worse. As she describes it, the bottom fell out. “They wanted to lock me up in a state hospital and throw away the key as being incurable,” Rohman recalls.

She tried to kill herself many times starting in her late 30s. But thanks to the right depression treatment, self-motivation and a sweet twist of fate, at the age of 67, Rohman is in a very different place.

“When I was 55 I met my soulmate, and I’m so happy!” Rohman says. “You never can tell what life is going to bring you. You’ve got to wait and see what the next chapter is going to be.”

Craig Miller, of Townsend, also knows the dark place of feeling suicidal. “I always had thoughts of suicide since I was 8 years old,” he says. “I always struggled with depression. I always struggled with mental health issues.”

Miller made several suicide attempts. But he recovered, turning his mental suffering into a force to help himself and others.

“It’s no longer dark, and it no longer hurts. And it’s no longer painful, and it no longer has this power over me that it used to have,” Miller reflects. Continue reading

Roxbury Center Targets Health Disparities In Boston’s Poorest Neighborhoods

Whittier Street Health Center opened its community vegetable garden on June 24. (Courtesy of Chris Aduama)

Whittier Street Health Center opened its community vegetable garden on June 24. (Courtesy of Chris Aduama)

By Marina Renton
CommonHealth Intern

When it comes to health in Boston, it’s hard to deny there’s a great divide across neighborhoods.

Need proof? A 2013 Boston Public Health Commission report found that, from 2000 to 2009, the average life expectancy for Boston residents was 77.9 years. But in the Back Bay, it was higher — 83.7 years — compared to Roxbury, where the average life expectancy was 74.

If you want to get even more local, you can analyze the same data by census tract, where life expectancy varies by as many as 33 years: 91.9 years in the Back Bay area between Massachusetts Avenue and Arlington Street, and 58.9 years in Roxbury, between Mass. Ave. and Dudley Street and Shawmut Avenue and Albany Street. That’s according to a 2012 report from the Center on Human Needs at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond.

The Whittier Street Health Center in Roxbury is trying to tackle the disparities in a very concrete way. With the launch of a new fitness club and community garden, the center is trying to make healthy food and exercise opportunities available and affordable to all, despite geography.

“What we’re trying to do is to remove those social determinants and barriers that are causing these [health] disparities,” said Frederica Williams, president and CEO of the health center.

‘If I Sweat, I’m Doing Something Right’

The fitness club and garden initiatives just launched June 27, but the Whittier Health and Wellness Institute is already drawing in community members.

Eight months ago, Wanda Elliott weighed 256 pounds. On a visit to her Whittier Street physician, she learned her blood pressure was high — high enough that she had to start taking medication. That was the wake-up call that motivated her to change her diet and start exercising.

“I was dragging,” she said.

Elliott began exercising at a local Y but joined the Whittier Street fitness club when it opened. In eight months, she has lost 52 pounds, leaving her 4 pounds shy of her 200 pound goal weight.

“I have two knee replacements, so I have to keep active every day,” she said. Trainers at the center helped her learn to use the exercise machines, and now it feels like a routine, she said.

“I feel addicted to working out. I feel like if I sweat, I’m doing something right,” she said. “From 256 to 204, I feel like a model. I can walk the runway; that’s how energized I feel now.”

Elliott is now off her blood pressure medication. She is working on making changes to her diet “slowly but surely,” drinking more water, eating more salad, and cutting back on red meat. Continue reading

In Boston, Celebration And Reflection As The Americans With Disabilities Act Turns 25

Marchers walk down Tremont Street near Boston Common to mark the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Marchers walk down Tremont Street near Boston Common Wednesday to mark the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Curb cuts, captions on TV, beeps that replace the “walk” sign for people who can’t see: all that has become commonplace in the 25 years since the Americans with Disability Act was passed.

But ask anyone who was in a wheelchair before 1990 and you’ll hear a story of frustration.

Rolling around city blocks, looking for a way to cross the street was a daily event. People crawled up stairs if they couldn’t find someone who could lift them and their chair. Or they’d order at a restaurant that insisted its bathroom was accessible, only to find it was not.

“[The ADA is] an appropriate thing to celebrate, but it was just a start. It has succeeded legally, but socially it has a long way to go.”

– William Peace

“That happened a lot, and still happens a little bit now, but back then that happened a lot,” said Christine Griffin, director of the Disability Law Center in Boston.

Griffin remembers arriving for a conference in the nation’s capital to find the hotel was not accessible. “I turned around and got back in a cab and I flew home,” she said.

The late Sen. Ted Kennedy told a congressional hearing back in 1988 that these stories had become too common.

“I bet if you go across this country, there really isn’t a member of a family or an extended family that hasn’t been touched,” said Kennedy, a chief sponsor of the ADA.

To build support for the act, supporters tied disability rights to civil rights.

“This change had an effect on people’s thinking,” Kennedy said in an interview 10 years after the law passed. “If you think of this as a continuation of the guarantee of equal rights, you come to different conclusions than if you’re looking at special legislation to try and look at some particular group.”

Now at the 25 year mark, disability advocates are celebrating and mapping their next steps. In Boston, about 2,000 people walked or rolled to Boston Common for a parade, speeches, music, dancing and crafts.

Continue reading

Thousands Ruled Ineligible For Mass. Medicaid

Tens of thousands of people have been removed from the state’s Medicaid program during the first phase of an eligibility review, according to figures from Gov. Charlie Baker’s administration obtained by The Associated Press.

The eligibility checks, required annually under federal law but not performed in Massachusetts since 2013, began earlier this year as part of Baker’s plan to squeeze $761 million in savings from MassHealth, the government-run health insurance program for about 1.7 million poor and disabled residents.

At $15.3 billion, MassHealth is the state’s single largest budget expense.

Based on the results of the redetermination process so far, the state was on track to achieve the savings it had hoped for in the current fiscal year without cutting benefits for eligible recipients, said Secretary of Health and Human Services Marylou Sudders. Continue reading

Bristol County Suicide Spike Not Just ‘A Bump In The Road’

Bristol County is seeing a surge in suicides.

On Monday, the Bristol County Regional Coalition for Suicide Prevention and the Bristol County District Attorney’s office released data on the extent of the issue in the county.

In the last three and a half years, 171 people in the county have died by suicide.

  • 2012: 35 confirmed suicides; 25 men and 6 women
  • 2013: 44 confirmed suicides; 29 men and 15 women
  • 2014: 58 confirmed suicides; 50 men and 8 women

The rash of suicides in Bristol County has affected mostly men in their early- to mid-50s. The number of men who have died by suicide has increased 72 percent over the past three years. These men often suffer from depression and substance abuse. And when they seek help, they are unable to find inpatient residential care.

“What we have happening in Bristol Country is not a bump in the road, and what we have happening is not a pothole. We have a sinkhole happening here in this county,” said Annemarie Matulis, director of the Bristol Country coalition.

There have been 34 confirmed suicides, 22 men and 12 women, so far this year. This means the county is on track to match the 2014 statistics or potentially surpass them, the coalition and DA’s office announced Monday.

Matulis says people close to someone who has died by suicide become themselves more prone to taking their own lives.

Resources: You can reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) and the Samaritans Statewide Hotline at 1-877-870-HOPE (4673).

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Happy 100 To You, And You — Centenarians Multiply, At Forefront Of Age Wave

Ethel Weiss, 100, dances with her daughter Anita Jamieson at the “Party Of The Century” at the Brookline Senior Center on Wednesday. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Ethel Weiss, 100, dances with her daughter Anita Jamieson at the “Party Of The Century” at the Brookline Senior Center on Wednesday. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

It’s a rare milestone, to turn 100 — but not nearly as rare as it used to be.

This week in the town of Brookline, Massachusetts, the senior center hosted more than a dozen local centenarians for a “Party of the Century.” In the not-so-distant past — centenarian parties in 2002 and 2007 — party organizers had to reach out to centenarians from all of Greater Boston to gather a critical mass for a fete.

But now, the 99-and-over set has so grown that the party had to limit itself to just Brookline, says Ruthann Dobek, director of the Brookline Council on Aging. And if the numbers keep growing, she told the crowd, “we’re going to have to start it at 105 or 110 to be eligible.”

The centenarians are the leading edge of the fastest-growing sector of the population: people over 60. In this state, the population over 60 has grown 17 percent over just the last five years, and the over-60 cohort will soon outnumber people under 20 for the first time in history, says David Stevens, the executive director of the Massachusetts Association of Councils on Aging. Continue reading

Suicide Rate Among Men Spikes In Bristol County

The number of suicides among white men between the ages of 45 and 65 spiked 72 percent from 2013 to 2014 in Bristol County, which includes 20 towns southwest of Boston and along the south coast including Taunton, New Bedford and Fall River.

The figures come from the Bristol County Regional Coalition for Suicide Prevention, which gets its data from the district attorney’s office. Among all the suicide deaths in 2014 in that county, 87 percent were men. Advocates say the male suicide rate last year was significantly higher than the state average, and the trend is similar so far in 2015.

The alarming increase in suicides in Bristol County — most of them among middle-aged men — is leading suicide prevention advocates to team up with the district attorney to get out the word that there is help. On Monday, the suicide prevention coalition and Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn will release more specific data on suicide in the county. In addition, the coalition will hold a series of community forums to discuss male depression and suicide.

Continue reading

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A Warehouse Full Of Legal Weed: Medical Marijuana Takes Root In Brockton

The hallway is white, pristine, almost corporate. But the operation behind one nondescript door is something completely new and different for Massachusetts.

Five-hundred plants in white, 5-gallon buckets sway and grow strong in a breeze created by fans. Rows of LED lights turn the room purple, blue, green or red, depending on which spectrum the plants need for optimum growth. The air is moist. And there’s a hint of a certain smell in the air: the tangy, musky scent of marijuana.

Welcome to one of the state’s first legal pot farms, this one attached to a Brockton medical marijuana dispensary called In Good Health.

Marijuana plants at In Good Health in Brockton (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Marijuana plants at In Good Health in Brockton. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Earlier this year, renting a 13,000-square-foot warehouse and planting several thousand marijuana seeds might have triggered a massive police bust, hefty fines and some serious time behind bars. But in April, this Brockton firm received its state license to grow marijuana for medical purposes.

Continue reading

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‘Not Just Lyme Disease Anymore': 7 New Reasons To Fear Ticks This Summer

Michael Vitelli of Marshfield Hills, Mass., a fit and active father of four who was recently laid low by the tick-borne disease anaplasmosis. (Courtesy)

Michael Vitelli of Marshfield Hills, Mass., a fit and active father of four who was recently laid low by the tickborne disease anaplasmosis. (Courtesy)

A father of four boys, Michael Vitelli of Marshfield Hills, Mass., lives a high-energy, outdoor and active life when he’s not at work. He fishes, he hikes, he golfs, he can even boast a running streak of 642 days in a row.

But last month, on what would have been day 643 of running, a tick brought him to an excruciating halt.

After feeling achey for a few days, Vitelli suddenly got too sick to get out of bed, as if with a summer flu — fever, sweats and chills, headache. Then he got even sicker. His test results looked dire: protein and bile in his urine;  liver function gone haywire; platelets, red and white blood cells down so low that his chart looked like he had leukemia, a doctor told him.

The diagnosis, after three days in the hospital: anaplasmosis, an infection borne by the same deer ticks that carry Lyme disease. It’s up dramatically in Massachusetts: About 600 confirmed and probable cases statewide last year, compared to closer to just 100 in 2010.

Never heard of it? Neither had Vitelli. Naturally, he’d heard of Lyme, which has spread across much of the country in recent decades and now infects an estimated 300,000 Americans a year at least, mainly in New England and the Midwest.

But like most people, he didn’t know that ticks can carry a whole array of nasty bugs — with obscure names like babesiosis and Borrelia miyamotoi — and that, though much less common, they, too, are on the rise, following more slowly behind the inexorable march of Lyme disease.

(Source: Massachusetts Department of Public Health)

(Source: Massachusetts Department of Public Health)

In worst-case scenarios, some of these infections can kill people, usually those who are old or have an underlying condition. Deaths are very rare; what’s not rare is for patients to get much more acutely, severely ill than is typical for Lyme disease.

“Those little ticks,” Vitelli says with the voice of bitter experience. “They can really wreak havoc with the body.”

It’s peak season for Lyme disease right now, and for these other infections as well. If the risk of Lyme hasn’t been enough to prompt you to take the recommended measures against ticks — repellent, tick checks — perhaps awareness of these rising new risks will add impetus. Public health officials also call for vigilance about persistent summer fevers with no other obvious explanation, and for greater awareness that they can be caused by bugs other than Lyme.

“If you live in an area where there’s Lyme disease, you should be aware of these other agents,” says Dr. Peter Krause, a tickborne disease expert at the Yale School of Public Health. “And that’s true throughout the United States.”

It’s also true for doctors. “If you’re thinking about Lyme disease, you should think about these other diseases, too,” says Dr. Larry Madoff, director of epidemiology and immunization at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, who recently helped treat a case of anaplasmosis in central Massachusetts. “And even if you don’t see Lyme disease, if you have a patient who reports tick exposures or lives in an area where there’s a high prevalence of these diseases, you should think about these as well. And they are treatable,” with antibiotics.

At the risk of being accused of scaremongering, here are seven new reasons to fear, loathe and avoid ticks more than ever this summer, based on news about these more acute infections:

1. Pronounced me-ya-moe-toe-eye: 

Researchers keep finding new tickborne bugs, like Borrelia miyamotoi, which was first reported in 2013 and causes flu-like feverish illnesses so severe that a recent study found that about one-quarter of patients who tested positive for it had landed in the hospital.

About 14 percent of patients who had it also tested positive for the bacterium that causes Lyme disease. The findings suggest that Borrelia miyamotoi “may not be a rare infection in the northeastern United States,” the authors write.

2. No Relaxing In August Continue reading