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.

Generous Grant From Bob Woodruff Foundation Brings Treatment Services to Veterans Impacted by Hurricane Harvey and COVID-19

The Council is excited to announce that we have received a generous contribution from the Bob Woodruff Foundation to provide recovery coaching, intensive case management, and clinical therapy to veterans and their families who are impacted by substance use and co-occurring mental health conditions. The grant is made possible by a partnership between the Bob Woodruff Foundation and the Qatar Harvey Fund to support veterans affected by Hurricane Harvey.

Veterans

Through this grant, The Council will support at least 50 veterans and their families who were originally impacted by Hurricane Harvey and currently struggling with substance use and co-occurring mental health conditions in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic. Veterans and their families are disproportionately impacted by substance use and mental health disorders, and the current trauma only magnifies these problems and far exceeds many people’s ability to cope.

The Council is well-positioned to respond to these individuals, having hosted the 2019 Veterans Mental Health Summit, and participating on the City of Houston’s Mayor’s Challenge Committee to reduce suicide among veterans in our community. As always, this project will include treatment not only for veterans, but also their families.

For more information or to send a referral, please contact our Outreach Coordinator and Veteran Liaison at dsunday@councilonrecovery.org or at 281-200-9242.

Maintaining Community During COVID-19

By Lori Fiester, Clinical Director of the Center for Recovering Families

As the last week wound down and settled, my staff and I made it through the trials and tribulations of integrating telehealth into our services. The reward – we are able to connect with our clients, see their faces, continue the work prior to this pandemic and offer assistance with this struggle. Most clients’ response was similar, “This got real!” Along with this response, most were grateful to get back to their recovery groups and have a safe place to talk. Reality appears to have shifted throughout everyone’s life. We all have been significantly impacted one way or another, and maintaining community seems harder than ever.

Change and the unknown can bring fear and anxiety. Some feel resistance to the change, which can increase such feelings. Another feeling common among our clients is grief. Not only from seeing the daily news and how this pandemic has killed thousands, but how the disruption of our daily routine magnifies all the little things we ordinarily do without a thought. Clients have expressed grief about their connections being disrupted or lost, friend/family becoming sick, employment threats or lay-offs, and how isolation compounds their feelings.

Isolation is one of the worst possible positions someone who is struggling with sobriety can be in, yet here we are.

Mandated to shelter in place. Isolation in any addiction or compulsive behavior is that ‘ism’s’  best friend. It causes us to think negatively, erroneously, and mostly disengage from the connection we most want and need. It can cause us to turn on ourselves, only to fill with self-loathing. As clinicians, our efforts are aimed at assisting our clients to navigate these changes by maintaining community in the chaos.

The technology that has often led to disconnection is now assisting us in the recovery community to connect with telehealth, online meetings, and online activities like yoga or meditation. While many are working from home, there are many others that are not working at all, and thus have even less connection to the world and more time on their hands. We are encouraging all our clients to reach out and connect, so the isolation can be lessened. Isolation, often the most troublesome of characteristics in this disease, now feels like it’s quadrupled. 

And while there are a lot of unknowns, what is known is that we need each other.

We cannot do this alone. As human beings, we aren’t wired that way, which is very similar to those in the recovery community trying to stay sober…. we all need the help of another. Today we need connection even more, even if it’s six feet apart and no more than 10 people at a time. Maintaining community in recovery is key. Another known is that the feelings of fear, anxiety, grief or any other feeling will become more manageable if we allow them in. If we can feel the feelings and allow them to move through, they will leave. Often we resist because the feelings overwhelm us, which causes suffering and more times than not, the feelings will come out sideways in unwanted behaviors. Another known is that we are in this together. If this is happening to you, help is just a phone call away. 

So, together we need to support one another to stay home and stay safe. We must continue our lives in recovery by maintaining community through attending online meetings, virtual classes, calling or video chatting with our sponsor, and if any of that hasn’t been attempted, it’s time now more than ever. 

Please visit The Council on Recovery’s remote resource page, as well as participate in our daily meditation offerings. If not now, when?

If you or your loved one needs assistance, please do not hesitated to contact the Council. We are here, ready and able to help in any way we can.

What is CBD and How is it Different from Marijuana?

Clinical Director for the Center for Recovering Families Lori Fiester answers your burning questions about CBD.

If you’ve driven around town lately, you might have seen all the CBD shops that have burst on the scene, or may have seen ads on your favorite social media site selling CBD oils and other such related items.

This surge recently came about due to hemp being legalized in 2018. There seems to be a lot of confusion about that too, especially when you realize that hemp and marijuana come from the cannabis plant. The difference between hemp and marijuana is that hemp can only contain 3% of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Past that percentage, it’s considered marijuana, which is illegal in Texas. While I see the effects of recreational marijuana abuse in my work, I had limited understanding about the what the differences between the substance were, the legalities, and was Cannabidiol (CBD) just another silver bullet. So I thought I’d dip my big toe in the river.

The Science of CBD

First of all, THC and CBD are chemically the same! Twenty-one carbon atoms, 30 hydrogen atoms and two oxygen atoms. The difference is in a single atom structure. And that single-atom difference is about feeling the psychoactive effects of the substance or not.

There are about 85 known cannabinoids found in the Cannabis plant, which include THC and CBD. A cannabinoid is a compound that interacts within the network of receptors in the Endocannabinoid System (ECS), which assist to maintain vital functions within the body. There are two receptors in the body called CB1 and CB2. CB1 is found in parts of the brain that is responsible for mental and physiological processes such as memory, cognition, emotion and motor skills. CB2 is found throughout the central nervous system and the immune system.

While both CBD and THC bind to the CB2, they interact with the CB1 receptors differently.  THC binds to the CB1 receptors that signals the brain to feel pleasure or ‘high’ feeling. CBD doesn’t bind directly to the CB1 and even its presence will negate the effects of the THC on the brain, meaning you won’t feel high. 

CBD

Use and Effects

CBD has been linked to assisting with pain, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis (MS), Parkinson’s, and inflammation, just to name a few. CBD is not regulated by the FDA and there have been no long term studies. There are no known side effects except in drug to drug interaction, i.e. medication.

THC is psychoactive which gives the ‘high,’ and its effects can include relaxation, altered senses, fatigue, hunger and reduced aggression.  Long term effects include addiction, impaired thinking and reasoning, a reduced ability to plan and organize, altered decision making, reduced control over impulses and correlates with significant abnormalities in the heart and brain.

Medical THC has been seen to help with the side effects of chemotherapy, MS, HIV/AIDS, spinal injury, nausea/vomiting, chronic pain, inflammation and digestive issues.

Marijuana is illegal in Texas although many states have legalized it for both recreation and medically.  Medical cannabis is legal in Texas in very limited situations. The Texas Compassionate Use Act came into law in 2015 allowing those affected with epilepsy, MS, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease have access to cannabis oil with less than 5% THC.

The Bottom Line is…

While CBD and THC come from the same plant, one is legal in Texas and one is not. It appears that CBD can have positive effects on a person’s health, it is not a psychoactive drug, there are no known side effects, and due to the changes in the law, it is readily available.  However, with that being said, there are no guidelines for manufacturing the substance, and there are no long term studies on the effects from taking the substance. I stress the issue of manufacturing due to the serious illness and even deaths we have seen from vaping when this delivery system was off-brand/market and often involving marijuana.

Marijuana is still illegal in Texas, it is a psychoactive and addictive drug and there are many side effects from its use. 

To make an appointment for a clinical assessment, or if you have any questions about how we can help you or a loved one struggling with substance abuse, call 713-914-0556 or contact us online.

If your campus, workplace or community would benefit from a presentation, contact us at 281-200-9273 or comm_education@councilonrecovery.org.

The Link Between Childhood Trauma and Addiction

For decades, the professional approach to addiction has been shifting away from shaming and blaming, and toward the belief that addiction is a normal and common biological response to adversity experienced in childhood. The popularization of this game-changing perspective is credited to Dr. Daniel Sumrok, director of the Center for Addiction Sciences at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center’s College of Medicine, who began his crusade to change the narrative around addiction after treating Vietnam veterans with PTSD in the early 1980s.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) affect long-term health, and can include physical, emotional, and sexual abuse; physical and emotional neglect; living with a family member who’s addicted to substances; depression and other mental illnesses; parental divorce or separation; incarceration or deportation of a family member; racism; involvement in the foster care system, and more. Clinicians like Dr. Sumrok administer an ACE assessment upon meeting a patient for the first time, and for good reason.

According to ACE studies, about 64% of people have at least one ACE, which can double to quadruple the likelihood of using drugs or alcohol, particularly at an early age. Having an ACE score of 4 nearly doubles the risk of heart disease and lung cancer and increases the likelihood of becoming an alcoholic by 700%. People with a score of 5 or higher are seven to 10 times more likely to use illegal drugs and become addicted. Furthermore, these studies show that it doesn’t matter what type of trauma the patient experienced. Different combinations of ACEs produce the same statistical health consequences.

Considering potential childhood trauma is necessary for addressing one’s addiction.

This requisite has fortunately also normalized the concept of addiction as “ritualized compulsive comfort-seeking” – it’s something one adopts as a coping behavior because they weren’t provided with a healthy alternative when they were young. This approach is not only supported by psychological research, it’s also the compassionate route to treating clients with substance abuse problems. Rather than labeling someone as an addict and punishing them for their behavior, clinicians like those at The Council find it’s kinder and more productive to address ACEs with their clients, and to help them seek comfort in other behaviors. Since its inception, the staff at the Center for Recovering Families is dedicated to helping their clients by looking at their trauma when appropriate and providing the necessary skills to deal with their feelings.

For more information about ACEs, read here. To calculate your ACE score, click here.

For questions about The Council’s assessment and treatment options, or if you or a loved one needs help, call (713) 914-0556 or contact us here.

Why is The Council Addressing Vaping?

This post is a contribution by Mel Taylor, President and CEO of The Council on Recovery.

If you follow The Council’s work, you’ve probably seen us discuss vaping quite a bit lately. But aside from the alarming news headlines, you may be wondering, “Why does The Council care about vaping?” Vaping is legal in Texas, after all, for people over the age of 21. And advocates of e-cigarettes argue that in comparison to traditional cigarettes, vaping is the better option. But as alcohol has proven, when used to excess, many things can be harmful even if they are legal. Vaping is no different. The Council believes unequivocally that vaping is dangerous and deserves our community’s attention.

Unfortunately, a lack of reliable information on the matter combined with sensational nightly news stories can tempt us into dismissing this phenomenon as just another overhyped story. Here at The Council, our goal is not to scare you – rather, we want to empower you with information you can trust to make your own choice.

So, why does The Council care about vaping?

The nicotine and other chemicals in vape liquid produce a pleasure response that changes the brain and can lead to addiction.

Nicotine produces a dopamine response in the brain, which then primes the brain’s sensitivity to rewarding stimuli. Anytime a substance alters the way the brain functions, there is potential for abuse and addiction. This is particularly true for young people whose brains are not yet fully developed, and are highly susceptible to changes in the way their brains respond to pleasure. Research consistently demonstrates that adolescents who vape are 3 times more likely to subsequently smoke traditional cigarettes.

But vaping isn’t safe for adults, either.

Many adults have seen first-hand the destruction wreaked by a lifetime of smoking cigarettes, so vaping may seem safe in comparison. Indeed, the e-cigarette industry originally marketed their products as a quit-aid, which has helped to perpetuate this myth. Vaping does not burn tobacco – the source of carcinogenic tar in traditional cigarette smoke – however, it does expose the respiratory system to nicotine and a cocktail of other harmful chemicals, and there is mounting evidence that it causes similar long-term lung damage as traditional cigarettes. What’s more, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation device. So, what does it all mean?

The long-term impact of vaping remains to be fully seen, but we know enough to say vaping is an urgent problem and immediate action is needed. As this problem develops, our learning will continue to grow. Just last week the Centers for Disease Control announced a breakthrough finding, naming vitamin E acetate as the potential culprit behind recent vaping related lung injuries and deaths, and helping to advance our understanding of this challenge. For now, The Council is busy doing what we have done for the last 75 years: supporting our community. The Council has weathered many such epidemics in our lifetime – from crack cocaine, to methamphetamine, to opioids, and now vaping. As ever, we remain committed to serving families who are impacted by addiction with information they can trust and best-in-class treatment.

Click here for more information on how The Council is tackling the vaping epidemic, and save the date for our Vaping Summit on February 21, 2020.