How Can We Fix Texas’ Mental Healthcare Crisis?

This blog post is co-authored by The Council on Recovery’s President & CEO Mel Taylor, MSW, and Executive Vice President Mary Beck, LMSW.

Substance use is a primary driver of readmission to the hospital and/or criminal justice systems.  If we addressed substance use disorders in conjunction with mental health disorders, the number of people in need of care would significantly decrease. Yet time and again, substance use is viewed as a secondary concern and not as a confounding disease affecting the majority of people with a mental health disorder.

As we read Alex Stuckey’s three-part series How Texas Fails the Mentally Ill, we were met with a mix of emotions. On the one hand, it is heartening to see a light being shined on this decades long travesty – a crisis that strips people of their dignity and basic human rights; that tells people they have to wait, homeless on the streets or in jail to get the care they desperately need. On the other hand, it is concerning to see the pronounced blind spot regarding co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders that exists among healthcare providers, behavioral health providers, policy makers, and the community at large.

According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, multiple national population surveys show that about half of those who experience a mental illness during their lives will also experience a substance use disorder and vice versa. And the coronavirus pandemic is only making matters worse. A recent study conducted by The Recovery Village asked 1,000 American adults about their use of drugs and alcohol in the past month, and 55 percent reported an increase in their alcohol consumption in the past month, with 18 percent reporting a significant increase. When asked what prompted their substance use, respondents cited stress, boredom, and an effort to cope with anxiety or depression.

At The Council on Recovery, we’ve watched this dynamic intensify over the past year, with more clients struggling with relapse, suicidal ideation, and overdose. So what can be done? First, we must acknowledge and embrace the fact that the mental health care system is in disarray, and if co-occurring substance use disorders continue to be discounted and dismissed, it is unlikely that outcomes will improve.

Beyond that, we know that we cannot overcome this crisis if fragmented policies and underfunding continues. Texas needs a comprehensive analysis and long-range plan for the entire system, led by behavioral health experts who equally represent substance use and mental health disorders. The plan must study leading-edge best practices for the treatment of co-occurring disorders. Most importantly, it must identify multiple financing options that incentivize public and private providers – as well as payers – to participate in the plan and to provide best practice care.

Last fall, The Council on Recovery launched The Center for Co-Occurring Disorders as just such an initiative.

This multi-partner Center will explore and document current best practices, conduct evaluation on models of care, and identify and advocate for financing options. Led by The Council, other partners include The Harris Center for Mental Health and IDD, Harris County Psychiatric Center, Baylor College of Medicine and Harris Health, as well as a psychiatrist in private practice and community members with lived experience.

Over the last 75 years, The Council has witnessed the changes in the landscape of behavioral health care unfold in real time, along with the devastating consequences. In the wake of the pandemic, the oncoming tidal wave of mental health and substance use disorders will undoubtedly inflict even more suffering on the individuals trapped within our broken system.

But we can turn the tide.

Initiatives like The Center for Co-Occurring Disorders can help to educate the public, policy makers, and behavioral health professionals about the crisis in our mental health system. Together we can advocate for legislative priorities that support these efforts. Because doing nothing is not an option.

If you or someone you love is struggling with substance use or a co-occurring mental health disorder, contact The Council today. We offer telehealth services to all who need it, regardless of their ability to pay.

The Importance of Treating Substance Use & Mental Health Disorders Together, with Dr. Kimberly Parks

This fall, The Council launched the Center for Co-Occurring Disorders, a groundbreaking initiative designed to address substance use and mental health issues together.

Substance use and mental health disorders often go hand-in-hand, with the National Institute on Drug Abuse estimating that about half of those who experience a substance use disorder will experience a mental illness during their lives and vice versa.

Despite the well-established link between these conditions, many treatment providers cannot or do not address substance use and mental health together, which leads to increased costs, duplication of services, and – most importantly – poorer outcomes overall. The Council launched our Center for Co-Occurring Disorders to respond to this critical challenge.

In this episode of Healing Choices, we will explore the connection between substance use and mental health, as well as the challenges and benefits of treating these conditions together. Plus, we’ll explore this history of substance use and mental health treatment in Houston – and how for 75 years, The Council has played a role in advancing care, research, and training around these life-changing conditions.

Tips for Coping During this Holiday Season

This blog post was contributed by CHOICES counselor Alejandra Ortiz.

Our holidays this year look quite different from a year ago. The holiday season is typically when we come together in community to share time with one another. This year, while families cannot physically come together, there are other ways we can cope with the stress and depression that social distancing guidelines may cause.

1. Acknowledge your feelings.

It is okay to take time to cry and express your feelings. Don’t force yourself to feel happy just because it is the holidays. It important for you to share how you feel. You may feel disappointment, sadness, or grief, just to name a few. Reach out to someone who can validate your feelings and help you move through them. If you are feeling lonely or isolated, seek out community, religious or other social events or communities. Try reaching out to a loved one through text or video calls.

2. Keep active.

Physical activity boosts mood both in the short and long term. Go for a 10-15 minute walk to increase your mood and calmness. You can be artistic and bring your camera to take some scenic pictures. Have you visited some of these parks around Houston?

  • Memorial Park
  • Buffalo Bayou
  • Houston Arboretum
  • Discovery Green
  • Hermann Park
  • Gerald Hines Waterwall Park
  • Terry Hershey Park
  • White Oak Greenway

Remember, with keeping active, it is also important to eat, drink water and sleep well. Make sure you are staying hydrated, eating balanced meals and maintaining a sleeping schedule. Also remember that while alcohol might lift your mood and reduce anxiety at the time, in the long term, alcohol increases the risk of developing mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.

3. Keep your expectations realistic.

Hearing how everyone is spending this holiday season differently this year could lead to potential disappointment and additional stress. A way to eliminate this is by setting clear expectations and boundaries with family and friends. In addition, it is important to respect everyone’s level of comfort during these difficult times.

If you feel you need professional help with managing depression, anxiety or any other mental health issue, please do not hesitate to contact us. Our highly-experienced counselors will confidentially discuss your unique situation and quickly get you the help you need.

How Do We Address the Mental Health Needs of the Veteran Community?

Thirty percent of active and reserve duty military personnel deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan have a mental health condition. Less than half of these veterans will receive the help they need. Why do so many veterans struggle with substance use and other mental health conditions? Why do so few get treatment?

In the newest episode of our official podcast, Healing Choices: Conversations on Addiction & Recovery, Lori Fiester meets virtually with David Sunday and Viola Chavez to discuss how we’re addressing the mental health needs of the veteran community during the COVID-19 pandemic.

We’ve Been There: The Role of the Family

This September is Recovery Month, and to celebrate we are sharing inspiring stories from our incredible staff members in recovery. For decades, The Council on Recovery and its Center for Recovering Families have approached addiction as a family disease. Each family member of someone struggling with addiction faces pain, fear and uncertainty throughout their loved one’s recovery journey. That’s why we focus on treating not only the individual, but the entire family as well. In this entry, one staff member recounts how the support and participation of her family was key to her recovery…

I knew I needed help for many years. For the most part, it had been 16 years since I had gone without drinking to inebriation and/or blackout on a daily basis, with only a few exceptions. I tried many times to stop drinking on my own, but always failed. In the fall of 2013, I began to realize that people could smell the alcohol on me, even if I hadn’t had anything to drink that day. Basically, my body was not metabolizing alcohol like it once had. I was drinking a quarter to a half gallon of alcohol a day, easily. I was miserable and exhausted, physically and mentally. In efforts to avoid smelling like alcohol, I started running/walking five to 10 miles a day and drank gallons upon gallons of water each day. I was doing everything humanly possible in order to flush the alcohol out of my system before going to work each morning.

I had stopped sleeping because I was in a constant state of severe anxiety, and my muscles were just wracked with involuntarily spasms anytime the alcohol levels in my body got below a certain level. My body just would not let me sleep, anymore. I had just turned 40 and I was convinced I would not be alive to see 41. December rolled around and I was convinced that I needed to make a decision – I needed to either end my life or pick myself up. I decided to pick myself up and I entered treatment on December 27, 2013.

The night I told my husband, “I need to go to treatment tomorrow,” he poured every ounce of alcohol we had in our house down the sink.

My husband has been the most important person in my recovery. In substance use prevention, the family can serve as a risk factor or a protective factor for substance use. The role of the family in relapse prevention is very similar. Not only has my husband been my biggest cheerleader in my recovery, but he has participated in recovery right alongside me for almost seven years, now. I have been fortunate in that my husband put me and my recovery first, and by doing that, he was able to learn how to put himself first, too. The night I told my husband, “I need to go to treatment tomorrow,” he poured every ounce of alcohol we had in our house down the sink. He came to aftercare with me every single Saturday for that first year. He became a member of Al-Anon and attended his meetings once a week – they used to call him ‘Wise Wes’ in group. However, his commitment did not end there.

Here we are, almost seven years later, and he has not had a drop of alcohol since that night in December of 2013. I never expected him to abstain. After all, it was my problem, not his. But something changed in both of us and not just in me. We were both dedicated to being healthy and sane for ourselves and for each other. For me, that meant putting an end to my drinking. For him, that meant gaining control of his health by learning how to eat right and exercise, resulting in a 120 lb. weight loss for him. Every celebration, every vacation, every time we eat out with friends and family, there we are – present and together.

How COVID-19 Is Affecting Teens’ Mental Health

This post is contributed by CHOICES counselor Joanna Robertson, M.MFT, LMFT, LPC

Like most of us, adolescents had their world turned upside down back in March by the Coronavirus pandemic. As teens prepare to return to school, I want to share a few of the ways COVID-19 has affected teens’ mental health, how this impacts them long-term, and how you can help.

The adolescent brain is still growing and developing. The prefrontal cortex, the section of the brain responsible for critical thinking and impulse control, is not fully developed until about 25 years old. Thus, adolescents may need additional support when it comes to regulation, which includes sleeping patterns, use of time and technology usage. Because of the pandemic, students lost the structure of school time, and when coupled with a lack of parental support, this left students to navigate on their own. This led to odd sleeping patterns and overall dysregulation, which can impact coursework, family relationships, and mental health.

Teens mental health

What are the challenges teens face in the pandemic?

Students lost consistent access to friends and adult supports. One study found that 80% of adolescent girls feel “more lonely and isolated than before” (The Rox Institute). While teachers, counselors, and mentors are doing their best to remain connected, it proves a challenging situation. Many teens are experiencing an increase in their sense of isolation, depression, and loneliness.

In addition to navigating schoolwork at home, many students have taken on new responsibilities, including childcare, housework, and part-time jobs. This puts additional pressure on teens to use their time and energy in a balanced way, which is already a challenge for the adolescent brain. It also makes it challenging for these students to keep up with schoolwork and can cause many to fall even further behind.

These are only a few of the factors impacting teens as a result of COVID-19. If teens were already using alcohol and/or drugs, they likely continue to do so throughout the pandemic. As their stress increases and their access to healthy coping support decreases, they are more at risk for developing substance use disorders. Further, previous crises show that teenagers may develop substance use problems after the crisis has passed. It is important that caring adults stay actively engaged in supporting the adolescents in their life.

How you can help teens.

Adolescents are creative, resilient, and resourceful, especially when they have supportive adults in their life. If you are wondering how you can help, start with the teens in your life. Talk to them about how they are experiencing things and ask what support they might need. Help them create structure. It’s something they may not want in the moment, but it’s something they need, and need help creating. Connect them with mental health resources either through their school or in the community. Finally, be aware of your own coping methods and responses. Set an example by finding healthy coping skills, such as meditation, peer support, counseling, and exercise.

If you need support, The Council is the place to start. Call us today at 713.914.0556 and ask about our virtual services.