The Pace of Guidance: How Do I Recharge & Reconnect After a Natural Disaster?

As people receive the COVID-19 vaccination and cases across the country are in steady decline, daily life is looking more like before the pandemic hit in March of last year. But we know through research and experience that the mental health impact of natural disasters such as the pandemic long outlast the physical impact, and due to the longevity and intensity of COVID-19, experts say we may be dealing with the aftermath for years to come. In this episode of our podcast, Healing Choices: Conversations on Addiction & Recovery, Mel Taylor and Lori Fiester discuss how natural disasters affect us, and how we can help those struggling with substance use and other mental health disorders in the wake of COVID-19 and other disasters.

The Council reflects on a year of COVID-19

Almost a year has passed since COVID-19 reached our own backyard. Within this year, we lost more than 500,000 lives, experienced historic social and political unrest, and most recently, endured a traumatic winter storm. Our community has faced a staggering amount of adversity within a relatively short timeline, so it is important to pause and reflect on these challenging events as we move forward to rebuild and recover.

Like most people, by the second week of March 2020, we understood that everything was about to change very quickly, and in a very big way. We also knew that the frightening and unprecedented nature of this global pandemic was going to inflict major, long-term damage on the collective mental health of our community, and that we needed to be ready.

Within the span of two weeks, we transformed our services to keep our staff and clients safe from this new and mysterious virus. Our quality assurance team vetted telehealth platforms, and created and trained staff on new policies and procedures. Our two-person IT team transitioned entire operations to remote work. Our intake department created new processes for virtual paperwork that met regulatory requirements. Our direct services staff phased out in-person assessments, counseling, and meetings, in favor of telehealth and other virtual services.

year of covid-19

That was just the beginning of an unforgettable year of challenge and change. New questions arose for programs and events that often required answers that balanced both creativity and adherence to the rules and regulations of our industry and funders. How do we reach those who need our help but don’t necessarily have the technological means or knowledge to participate in our services? How do we continue to serve students in schools when most are still meeting in virtual or hybrid formats? How do we help those who benefit from support groups we cannot host in person? How can we serve those on the front lines of the pandemic who are most affected? How do we continue our cherished speaker series virtually?

As the one-year anniversary of the pandemic approaches, we wanted to take this moment to acknowledge the complexity and enormity of our collective experiences throughout the last year.

At The Council, we are proud of our determination to overcome seemingly insurmountable challenges. But we celebrate these achievements while also remembering that they came with immense personal hardships unique to this natural disaster. We saw teens in crisis after having their social and school lives upended. We heard of clients and community members relapsing after years of sobriety and stepped in to help wherever possible. We responded to cases of acute mental health distress triggered by the fallout of the pandemic.

As we move toward the light at the end of this tragic year, we know that the trauma and grief from the adversities our community has faced – and continues to face – will long outlast the current circumstances. That’s why our resolve to serve the community is unwavering. The Council has learned to adapt and respond to each challenge, strengthening our ability to serve Houston and deepening our passion to help all who need us.

If you or someone you know is struggling with substance use or another mental health issue, pandemic-related or otherwise, call us at 713.914.0556 or contact us through our website today. Our qualified and compassionate intake team will get you to the help you need and deserve.

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 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.

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.