Dr. Hazel on Emerging Trends with Mental Health and Substance Use

Trends with Mental Health and Substance Use

What trends in mental health and substance use is our medical team seeing at SouthLight? We reached out to our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Letitia Hazel, to find out what trends she and her medical team are seeing and how we, as a community, can be prepared to help those who may be struggling.

In 2023, SouthLight served more than 7,400 individuals seeking mental health and substance use treatment, so we have a pretty good view of what’s happening on the streets, in the community, and in our opioid treatment program. Here’s what Dr. Hazel had to share.

Insights on the Latest Trends in Mental Health and Substance Use

What mental health and substance issues are you seeing emerge or continue to be an issue in 2024?

We see more depression and anxiety, which can lead to more substance use.

This time of year, especially after the holidays, there’s an increase in mood disorders. As a community, we should be especially mindful of what people may be going through, and having intentional conversations. As a provider, a counselor, a colleague, family member or a friend, it’s important to be all the more sensitive to people’s emotions and feelings and how they impact their overall health.

What trends in substance use are you and your team of providers, nurses and counselors seeing at SouthLight?

First, fentanyl is still prevalent and it’s one of the primary issues we’re dealing with now. People need to be aware of the dangers of this lethal synthetic opioid and what to watch out for. As a community, we need to talk more openly about substance use prevention and treatment.

Second, we’re also seeing a fair amount of methamphetamine use—a potent and highly addictive stimulant. It’s rampant. Methamphetamine revs them up and then they want something to bring calm them down, and that’s often when fentanyl comes into play. It becomes a vicious cycle.

Third, what’s really startling is the use of stimulants. A recent article reported that 50% of overdoses include added stimulants. It’s a real problem and we need to start working together as a community on how we can deal with it.  

And last, what we’re seeing a lot of SouthLight of is Xylazine and how it’s impacting patients in our care. And unfortunately, it’s getting harder to reverse an overdose on Xylazine with Narcan.

We need to do more to educate the community about dangers and the lethal impact of using Xylazine.

What do you want our community to understand about the recovery process?

These are a few reminders I would share with someone in recovery, or someone helping a loved one through recovery:

Recovery is a process, a life-long process, and it looks different for every person. Set yourself up for success by creating/setting realistic goals and finding a community of support. Figure out what works for you, not what works for other people.

If you’re supporting someone in recovery, be patient. Recovery will look different at different stages. In the beginning, it’s going to look rough. In the middle stages, have patience and a listening ear. The most important thing you can do is approach a person who is using substances with compassion and zero judgment. Understand that their addiction does not define them.

What are a few things you want people to understand about the connection between mental health and substance use?

It’s important to understand what addiction actually does to the brain. It takes over the part of the brain where you reason; it takes away your judgment, especially when using opiates. Once opiates take over your brain, you don’t have control. To reclaim their brain is a long process, but help is available and recovery is possible.

My hope is for people to understand that addiction is not a moral failing.

Just know that your loved one is still there; their brain has been hijacked and they are buried inside, but it is not hopeless. Treatment works–we see it every day at SouthLight.

What do you love most about working with SouthLight clients?

I love their willingness to be open when they feel heard. If our clients feel heard and not judged, they will share. When they share, you’re developing that rapport. As they share what they’re going through, I can help guide them, and I also learn so I can help the next person.

I love the vulnerability our clients allow themselves to have when they feel heard. It will make you cry. If you’ve been taking care of someone for a while, and they’ve been guarded and then they finally begin to trust you…when you can reach that point as a provider, that’s when you realize that’s what you’re here for.

You worked with a lot of students in your roles as Medical Director of Student Services at both NC Central and NCSU. What advice would you give to parents, teachers or friends who notice a change in behavior?

See what you actually see, not what you want to see. If you notice something like a change in behavior, speak to it. Recognize that there’s a lot of shame when kids think “I should be doing better. I should be happy.” Make a statement about what it is you are seeing, and not a judgment. Share your own feelings, such as “I’ve been feeling a lot of stress lately. How about you?” Don’t make up a narrative. Acknowledge what you’re actually seeing.

What excites you most about SouthLight’s future?

I’m excited about getting to implement primary care services as part of the Certified Community Behavioral Health Clinic (CCBHC) model. As we explore partnerships to add primary care, this will make a huge difference for our clients.

I’m also super excited about finishing up the renovation of our outpatient treatment facility in Southeast Raleigh and envisioning how it’s going to be used. The renovation is about providing great services in a beautiful and efficient space, and encouraging more collaboration. Having a pharmacy embedded in our space will make it so much easier for our clients to get their medications.

Read more about SouthLight’s renovation of our Outpatient Treatment Facility in Southeast Raleigh. Learn more about our expansion into the Fayetteville area and the community-based services we are providing.

Letitia Hazel, M.D. SouthLight Healthcare Chief Medical Officer

SouthLight Healthcare Chief Medical Office Letitia Hazel, M.D.

My philosophy regarding patient care is to treat the “whole person,” which means addressing not just their medical concerns but psycho-social factors as well.  I also believe “The sum of the parts is greater than the whole” so working with a strong team is extremely important to me.  That is what drew me to SouthLight.


Read Dr. Hazel's Bio