Joyce Roberson-Steele smiling.

Joyce Roberson-Steele

On Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, Joyce Roberson-Steele, Field Program Coordinator at Wurzweiler and a Ph.D. student, presented “Considering Intervention Strategies for Black Older Adults and Substance Use During COVID” at the 9th Annual Black Doctoral Network Virtual Conference.

“I joined the Black Doctoral Network to be part of a supportive community during my doctoral journey,” Roberson-Steele explained. “They offer one-on-one mentoring from people both currently pursuing their doctoral degrees and others who have successfully defended their Ph.D.s, powerful and informative presentations, and tutorials to help prepare doctoral students for understanding the process of completing their dissertation,” adding that the Network “also provides a platform for discussing social issues that directly affect people of color.” The Black Doctoral Network also shares information on current positions for those seeking employment, conducting research, grant opportunities, and financial opportunities for funding to doctoral students. “This connection with like minds who are in similar positions offers a supportive atmosphere for Black researchers across the country and is a great space for networking and sharing ideas.”

In August, Roberson-Steele answered a call to present at the national convention, encouraged by a mentor to do so because of her interest in gerontology. The theme for the convention was the effects of COVID-19 on the Black community, a focus that fit perfectly with her doctoral proposal on the impact of spirituality on older Black adults who use substances.

“This population was isolated and fragile, as many older Americans also experienced; however, there was a silent subgroup within the older Black population who also had the added concern of maintaining their sobriety, which created additional needs to address,” Roberson-Steele explained. “Those that were in treatment and taught to be in constant connection with their peers were now isolated and had to resort to virtual support groups. Some people had no internet, others had no computers, and some could have had both, but minimal ability to navigate them. Add in other triggers such as fear of the virus, frustration from the unknown and loneliness, and you can understand how the concern with possible relapse increases.”

In her presentation, Roberson-Steele discussed the cultural aspects related to this population, which are often not addressed in the systems currently established for substance use disorder treatment programs. She also spoke about the barriers to obtaining treatment as well as exploring how these barriers can be modified to reduce the conflicting issues that add to continued substance use and misuse. Intervention strategies that are more tangible and realistic to working with older Black adults include such things as the Black church, which has been a historical place of healing and comfort to the older Black adult population for addressing mental health issues. (Roberson-Steele did also discuss the topic of trauma from experiences with organized religion and noted that the use of spirituality instead of organized religion could offer a more holistic approach to recovery.)

“I was very excited to be able to professionally discuss my research topic and engage in a conversation on how important it is to provide a voice to a group of people who often are invisible partially because of age and race, but mostly because of the stigma attached to substance use. My research will explore the experiences of this population with the intention of offering new information to the substance abuse treatment practitioners and the Black church community as well as to encourage future research for others with specific identifying needs to be included in their intervention strategies for successful recovery outcomes.”

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