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.

How Employers Can Support the Mental Health of their Employees During a Pandemic

The Coronavirus pandemic, economic collapse and historic unemployment are threatening the collective mental health of the United States workforce. Barriers to mental health treatment such as stigma in the workplace will only intensify this mental health crisis for American workers.

According to a poll by the American Psychological Association, only half of workers in the United States say they are comfortable talking about their mental health in the workplace. More than a third of participants cite concern about job consequences if they seek mental healthcare through their employer. These troublesome statistics indicate that, now more than ever, we need to work together to destigmatize the conversation around mental health, so that employees feel safe to seek treatment.

What can employers do?

Company policies and communications that emphasize mental health is a priority can reduce or eliminate a major barrier to seeking substance abuse and mental health treatment. Adopting and promoting an employee assistance program that employees can use anonymously, to eliminate any fear of judgment or repercussions, is a great start. Other ways to look after employees’ mental health includes regularly checking in with them, fostering a positive and transparent work environment, encouraging open conversations around mental health, and increasing access to mental health resources.

Employee mental health

These efforts benefit everyone in the long run, especially when they can result in employees seeking treatment for substance use disorder. In a normal year, drug abuse costs employers upwards of $81 billion due to high turnover rates, reduced productivity and quality of work, higher absenteeism and sick time, increased number of on-the-job accidents and injuries, increased costs of workers’ compensation and disability, and increased healthcare costs.

We need your help.

As the Coronavirus pandemic continues, substance abuse and overdoses are increasing nationwide. Recent Census Bureau data shows that, during the pandemic one-third of adults are experiencing severe anxiety, and nearly one-quarter are showing signs of depression. With no end to the pandemic in sight, efforts to reduce barriers to mental health treatment rest in the hands of employers. Together, we can combat these rising rates and reduce the impact of the pandemic on employees’ mental health.

If you know someone at work who is struggling with substance use or mental health, The Council is the place to start. For questions or to get started, contact us here or at 713.914.0556. Virtual treatment is available.

The Connection Between Trauma & Addiction, with John O’Neill

Lori invites John O’Neill of The Menninger Clinic to discuss the connection between trauma, PTSD, and substance abuse. With the whirlwind of shocking events occurring in the world, from COVID-19, to the economic collapse, to the repeated acts of police brutality and ensuing protests, we’re already seeing an increase in trauma cases across our community. Lori and John explain why that is, and how we can help those experiencing trauma.

What Do Expanded Telehealth Services Mean for the Mental Healthcare Industry Beyond COVID-19?

To limit the spread of COVID-19, The Council on Recovery has joined numerous behavioral health organizations across the world in adopting telehealth into our services, which means we treat people remotely for addiction and co-occurring mental health disorders. While telehealth has its drawbacks, expanded telehealth services across the globe is a significant step forward for mental healthcare, during the pandemic and beyond.

Here’s the problem – one in five adults in the United States live with a mental illness, but only half of them seek treatment. On top of this dismaying statistic is another reality – trauma and isolation from the global Coronavirus pandemic will undoubtedly trigger a mental health crisis in the United States. Unlike hurricanes and wildfires, which are localized, the virus brings devastation to all communities, and intensifies the need for mental health services in our country where million people are estimated to live in regions without direct access to mental health professionals.

Telehealth

Here’s another problem – despite major strides toward a better understanding and awareness of the importance of mental health, having any sort of mental illness, from anxiety to substance use disorder, is still highly stigmatized around the world and across cultures. People living with a mental illness may experience prejudice and discrimination, especially if they live in communities which downplay the importance of mental health.

The mental healthcare system going virtual breaks down barriers for many of those who need it.

Right now, telehealth is bringing needed services to individuals while still allowing them to stay inside and distance from people. Beyond, it means essential treatment is now accessible for people who aren’t mobile due to financial or health reasons, or those 111 million people who live in areas that lack mental health services.

The expansion of telehealth services also means that those who come from backgrounds in which mental illness is highly stigmatized can get treatment without drawing too much attention to themselves from their family or community members. They can also skip that scary first step of physically going to a treatment center.

Telehealth isn’t the ultimate answer to the mental health crisis America is about to face, especially since there are still technologically-poor populations who need our help. However, it is a big step forward in terms of accessibility, and The Council will continue to take whatever actions necessary to serve people struggling with substance use.

We’re seeing telehealth’s positive impact right here at The Council.

“Telehealth services have provided a unique opportunity for social interaction and normalcy during an otherwise traumatic, solitary collective experience,” says Jaimee Martinez, case manager for the Cradles program at The Council. “The feedback I had previously gotten from clients regarding in-person classes was that they enjoyed the secondary benefits of having some time to themselves to grow, learn and take a breather. I am finding this to be true with virtual classes as well.”

If you or a loved one need help with substance use or a co-occurring mental health disorder, contact us here or call us at 713.914.0556. Click here to learn more about our telehealth services.