- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 16, 2009

It’s a common question, asked everyday: “How are you?” However, when Dr. Dawne M. Carroll, a family-practice physician, has put that question to her patients in recent months, many of them have broken down in tears.

“People are under a lot of stress, and more and more I am seeing people for illnesses that are manifested by stress,” said Dr. Carroll, who has offices in Lanham and Arlington.

She mentioned stress-related behavior, such as overeating, which can lead to obesity, which can lead to high cholesterol and high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease.

Dr. Carroll said something more needed to be done to help the flood of patients she treats, as well as those who were not making it into the physician’s office.

She voiced her concerns to Leslie E. Johnson, wife of Prince George’s County Executive Jack B. Johnson, and the two worked on developing a conference focused on helping people cope with their stress, particularly brought on by economic woes.

The Coping In Extraordinary Times Conference was held Saturday at the Dr. Ernest Everett Just Middle School in Mitchellville.

The program featured lectures, workshops, support groups and literature to provide men and women “with mechanisms and resources for coping with the special issues confronting them during the unusual and challenging times in the county and the nation,” as the conference flier reads..

“People are under a lot of duress. Some aren’t coming to the doctors’ [offices] because they don’t have the money to pay their insurance’s co-pay[ments],” Dr. Carroll said.

Many also are delaying treatment because they have lost their jobs or fear losing them and their insurance.

“Some have lost their insurance because they have lost their jobs,” Dr. Carroll said. “And some are coming to see their physicians with illnesses that are a direct result from the stress related to having to go to work even when they don’t feel well because they fear losing their jobs.”

The coping conference followed new unemployment figures for May from the U.S. Labor Department that indicate the nation’s jobless rate is at 9.4 percent. The rate for blacks is nearly 15 percent.

Prince George’s County, once viewed as having the nation’s most affluent black population, is a mirror of the challenging times.

According to RealtyTrac, an online foreclosure information and buying resource, Maryland had the 17th-highest rate of foreclosure in the nation in April. The U.S. rate was one filing per 374 households, up 32.3 percent from a year earlier. Prince George’s again had the highest rate in the state last month, with one filing per 273 households.

Mrs. Johnson said this will not be the only conference to focus on stress reduction.

“We know that we can’t address and solve people’s concerns with a one-day conference. That’s why we are following up with them and developing support groups,” she said.

The conference included workshops on managing finances, personal health care, parenting and preparing for work. It also offered a workshop called Recreation and Having Personal and Family Fun.

“Even in these challenging times, we need some fun in our lives,” Mrs. Johnson said. “So we had information on how to relax and let go.”

The conference, which was staffed by county employees volunteering their time for the day, was sponsored by Prince George’s Women United to Help Others, part of the county executive’s Livable Communities Initiative.

Dr. Carroll said she will work with other health professionals to follow up with some of the conference participants to provide free services, including screenings for high blood pressure, diabetes and cholesterol.

The support groups developed at the conference will be monitored by Women United to Help Others volunteers.

“We want to have a lasting effect, and we believe the support groups are the way to go,” Mrs. Johnson said. “People tend to open up and share when they are behind closed doors. Being able to talk to someone who has walked in your shoes and has some surviving stories and techniques to share will give our residents the additional tools they need to weather the economic storm.”

• Renee Tinsley is a writer living in Prince George’s County.

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