People pouring out of a giant open drug capsule

Consequences of the Pandemic – Surging Drug Abuse

One of the most populous counties in Ohio reported last month a dramatic jump in fatal drug overdoses deaths. These deaths were largely caused by fentanyl, a powerful and highly dangerous prescription drug, and a highly trafficked drug on the black market. The demographic group most affected was young adults. These deaths occurred when many Americans thought we had turned a corner concerning the epidemic of prescription drug abuse,  overdoses and deaths.

The pandemic seems to be driving a rise in such drug abuse. Drug abuse has increased during the pandemic not only for the highly dangerous opioid fentanyl, but also for methamphetamine, heroin, and cocaine along with a rise in overdose deaths. Many times, deaths are related to the users electing to combine drugs creating unpredictable and often deadly consequences.

The Relationship Between The Economy, Mental Health and Drug Abuse

Should we really be surprised at the resurgence of drug overdose deaths? No. Economists and behavioral health researchers have long documented the relationship of economic factors (in this case the impact of the COVID-19 on the U.S. economy) on mental health and substance misuse in the U.S. and in other industrialized societies. We know that economic downturns have a substantial impact on the prevalence of common mental issues generally, as well as more serious concerns such as suicidal behaviors and substance abuse. In turn, these issues impact business productivity, their health care costs, rises in crime, and in domestic and intimate partner abuse and violence.  All of these consequences should be concerns to business leaders.

How The Pandemic Affects Drug Abuse 

To the economic impact of the pandemic, add the additional stress created from restricted access to normal, everyday stress-relieving activities. Take away activities such as socializing with friends and family, dining out, enjoying in-person sporting, entertainment and cultural events, and access to exercise facilities.  Not to mention the fear and grief associated with 230,000 deaths and the stress around the disruption of normal school, work, and transportation routines.

Furthermore, too often lost among this is the fact that 22 million Americans are engaged in a daily effort to maintain their recovery from substance misuse. In the best of times, this is a challenge. Many more are actively misusing drugs and are not in treatment. Each year about 70,000 Americans die from drug overdoses. Patients need access to clinical care and peer support groups and related services. The pandemic has restricted access and, in some cases, diverted health care resources away from those in need. So, while the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, the nation also continues to confront a drug abuse epidemic within the pandemic.

What Businesses Can Do

Like Covid-19, this societal problem is a business issue. No business has immunity from it.  And no vaccine is “just around the corner.” No industry, no demographic group, no zip code is spared. Here’s what businesses should be doing now.

  • Visit with vendors that provide services to your organization that help prevent and address substance abuse and addiction.
  • Partner with these vendors to provide solutions that afford early detection and intervention for substance misuse.
  • Partner with groups in your community that create awareness and positive actions to address this epidemic within the pandemic.

About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change.  For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

Source

Shock: Data Reveals Drug Abuse Worse than Thought

David Sparkman

EHS today

Oct 21, 2020

https://www.ehstoday.com/covid19/article/21145382/shock-data-reveals-drug-abuse-worse-than-thought

 

Weight gain is a result for many due to the pandemic and now the holidays

Hungry for Normality? Weight Gain is a Consequence of the Pandemic

I learned a disturbing fact during a pre-Thanksgiving visit I had with Espyr’s fine team of professional health coaches. This team of health and fitness experts provides guidance, support, and accountability for employees of organizations that value the health and fitness of their workers.  This includes groups like the U.S. Coast Guard, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and numerous transportation industry clients. The coaches informed me that an unanticipated consequence of the COVID-19 pandemic has been a national weight gain. And for those who are diagnosed with COVID-19, weight gain can slow their recovery, contribute to complications, and generally increase their risk of death from the disease.

This weight gain has occurred in an America that was already overweight. On average the additional pandemic weight gain has been 16 pounds.  Surveys indicate that around three fourths of Americans gained weight during the pandemic and many were trying to shed that weight just as the holiday feasting season arrived.  That’s a big challenge!

Negative Health Consequences of Weight Gain

We all know that overweight people are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure, coronary diseases, sleep problems, diabetes, and many other negative health consequences. Long before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) repeatedly warned us that America’s obesity rate (defined as a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more) was increasing.  By this definition, 42% of Americans were classified as obese pre-pandemic.

The annual medical cost for obese people is $1,429 higher than non-obese people. That equates to hundreds of billions of dollars of healthcare costs associated with obesity. This health condition, like many others, is preventable and is directly related to modifiable human behaviors. Employers, taxpayers, and consumers pay this enormous financial bill, while those suffering from obesity pay with poor health and early death. So, the additional pandemic weight gain became a type of “surge upon the surge” to humbly borrow a phrase from Dr. Fauci.

Factors That Create Weight Gain

It’s not surprising that Americans have gained weight in 2020. The pandemic has created a perfect combination of factors to create weight gain. These factors include reduced access to the many routine ways we comfort or care for ourselves.  Working out at fitness centers, socialization with friends and family, visiting restaurants and bars, participating in sports, viewing live entertainment and sporting events, and many other formerly routine activities have been sharply curtailed if not eliminated all together.  At the same time, the pandemic has made eating – and often eating not so healthy foods – an easily accessible way to provide gratification, reward, and comfort.

Significance of Pandemic Psychology

Eating is not the only way people seek gratification and comfort during times of stress.  Have you noticed that more people have started holiday decorating early this year?  This early decorating is not because of holiday season creep. Like overeating, it’s another consequence of pandemic psychology. Early decorating helps hasten the fulfillment of the wish of getting to a normal holiday season – at least in appearance. It also gives people a sense of control and certainty in an unusual, uncontrollable and anxiety-filled environment.  You can expect to see the same behavior in robust holiday sales as pandemic weary consumers splurge on themselves and others as a deserving reward for surviving a tortuous 2020.

Employers Can Offer Resources to Help Retain Employees

For employers, there is an occupational aspect to all of this that calls for leadership among the business community. This is especially true for employers of workers who must achieve and maintain fitness standards to keep their jobs. It’s a concern beyond just the human suffering and the healthcare costs – it’s a concern about the retention of good employees.

In the transportation industry for example, the pandemic brought on a federal moratorium of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s required medical examinations that ensure professional drivers of tractor-trailers and buses are healthy enough to be safe on the highways. That moratorium is not continuing in 2021 and expectations are that there will be a wave of drivers who fail to pass their medical exams.

Professional drivers – even in the best of times – are chronically exposed to dangerously high levels of stress during their often 11 hours of driving each day. They manage and master a sedentary job with limited exercise, poor opportunities for restorative sleep and rest, constant loneliness and restricted social supports, and rest stops full of unhealthy food choices. Additional weight gains of even a few pounds during the pandemic can mean professional drivers don’t pass their medical exams.  If they don’t pass,  they lose their job, their family’s economic security is imperiled, and their employer loses a skilled driver in an industry with a chronic driver shortage. Similar risks exist in law enforcement.

All this makes right now a good time for any employer to examine the resources they can offer employees to help them get fitter and then make sure employees are aware of these resources.

Resolve To Lose The Weight Gain In 2021

The holiday season is a very challenging time to lose extra weight.  Many Americans are finding that out this week. For many of us, health coaches can be very effective in helping those who want to get serious about trimming those pandemic and holiday weight gains. But whatever weight reduction method works for you, if you’ve adding a few extra pounds (or more) this year, start the new year right and shed those extra pounds.  Medical professionals tell us that even a small change in weight can have positive health consequences.

About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change.  For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

Sources 

How COVID-19 Has turned the Spotlight Back on Obesity

Agnieszka de Sousa and Thomas Buckley/ Blomberg

The Washington Post

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/how-covid-19-has-turned-the-spotlight-back-on-obesity/2020/11/27/eff85c06-307e-11eb-9dd6-2d0179981719_story.html

 

Coronavirus prompts double-digit weight gain…

Courtney Moore, Fox Business

https://www.foxbusiness.com/lifestyle/coronavirus-weight-gain-76-americans-nutrisystem

 

Adult Obesity Facts

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

https://www.cdc.gov/obesity/data/adult.html

 

Servant Leadership as a Response to Crisis

The impact of COVID-19 has greatly endangered our lives and livelihoods as we continue to work our way through what seems like a never-ending cycle of uncertainty and confusion surrounding management of the pandemic. As cases of infection and deaths rise, we’re seeing more clearly the complex ways that the pandemic is affecting   employers and their employees.  It’s important for business leaders to understand that research in terror management shows that increased reminders and exposure to mortality can invoke strong feelings of anxiety, which puts employees’ wellbeing at risk. Workplace performance and employees’ sense of wellbeing are deeply connected.  Business leaders can relieve employee anxiety and uncertainty by learning and demonstrating the characteristics of servant leadership.  Let us explain how.

Unexpected Ways The Pandemic Affects Business 

The impact of the pandemic is a business concern and not just because it takes up so much mental space in employees’ minds. Amid such a crisis, researchers inform us that increased exposure to death and the threat of death may not only trigger anxiety but also activates self-protective behaviors that decreases job engagement (Hu, He, & Zhou, 2020). With millions of Americans working from home and already experiencing increased feelings of isolation, loneliness, and anxiety, work performance is at high risk of being negatively affected by this exposure to death. Decreased work performance can be seen as a form of withdrawal caused by a decrease in devotion to work physically, emotionally and cognitively. This may lead to lower productivity, distractions and low motivation to work.

How Servant Leadership Can Help Employees Navigate Anxiety and Retain Work Engagement

Within the workplace, just as in our larger society, leaders play an essential role in guiding people in times of crisis to reduce anxiety and for business leaders to promote work performance and customer service. They can adopt the leadership approach coined in 1970 by Robert K. Greenleaf in his essay, The Servant as Leader. Servant leadership is defined as a leader who prioritizes the needs of employees and stakeholders within the community by promoting the fulfillment of others’ needs, attention to emotional suffering, and empowerment (Hu, He, Zhou, 2020). A recent study on the relationship of COVID-19 related anxiety and job engagement revealed that higher rates of servant leadership promoted job engagement (Hu, He, Zhou, 2020). Servant leaders are especially important in times of crisis as their skills are valued in keeping anxious workers engaged in the workplace. Servant leaders aid in providing workers with a stable psychological resource, such as the feeling of  purpose and meaning in life by encouraging others to consider our shared humanity in reducing the destructive effects of a crisis.

Be Attentive to the Emotional Needs of Employees

To do so, servant leaders must be attentive to and acknowledging of employees’ emotional needs in order to shape employees’ responses to a major crisis. Rather than a top-down, leader-first approach, servant leaders tend to be more effective in leading from the bottom and placing importance on the promotion of growth within employees – in this case by reducing the negative influences of anxiety caused by the ongoing pandemic that is killing 1,000 Americans per day.

Provide Affirmation of Their Confidence in Employees

In addition to connecting with and empathizing with employee concerns, servant leaders should provide affirmation of their confidence in their employees. When employees feel that their leaders care about their wellbeing, most will feel more valued in the workplace and most will be more willing to invest in their work roles. Added resources for employees and autonomy in remote working is also crucial in reducing the negative influences of employee anxiety on their job engagement and performance.

Focus on the Broader Community

Lastly, servant leaders also focus on the broader community. By creating a work culture that inspires employees to serve the community outside of their work, leaders help to deepen their sense of our common humanity and connectedness. When individuals feel a deepened sense of humanity and community, their attention is more likely to be directed towards action to alleviate others’ suffering as well as to be better teammates in the workplace.

Prioritize the Wellbeing of Employees

As we continue to navigate through the global pandemic, companies should continue to prioritize the wellbeing of employees to ensure work engagement. Utilizing techniques of servant leadership to recognize and acknowledge the possible effects of crisis-related anxiety and reduce the consequences of work disengagement may be a key factor of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

To read more about servant leadership, see Robert K. Greenleaf’s books, including The Power of Servant Leadership or The Servant as Leader.

About the Authors

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

Yeji Jang, MSW Intern, is a graduate intern at Espyr, working in the Network and Provider Relations Department and with Espyr’s Chief Clinical Officer.  A graduate of the University of Georgia with a B.S. in Psychology, and having worked with immigrant populations, she is currently finishing her last semester at Indiana University’s Graduate School of Social Work. After graduation, Yeji will pursue the goal of becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and then wants to practice clinical social work in a behavioral health setting.

Sources

https://psycnet.apa.org/search/display?id=b6ee4cd6-1096-a0a2-0d11-e6b017b2c7fa&recordId=1&tab=PA&page=1&display=25&sort=PublicationYearMSSort%20desc,AuthorSort%20asc&sr=1

(https://psycnet.apa.org/fulltext/2020-75403-001.pdf)

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change.  For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

The Damage of the Pandemic to Higher Education and Student Health

The coronavirus pandemic is currently surging in many parts of the U.S. Just as cooler weather, the flu season and the holidays approach, COVID-19 is killing over 800 Americans per day, and case counts are reaching new peaks in some states. We have heard a good deal about the pandemic’s economic impact on businesses, especially in the hospitality and airline industries. Another consequence is its impact on higher education – an impact that threatens student health and the future of millions of students. Many of the responses of higher education administrators have sent chilling messages to students, parents, and prospective students.

Impact on Higher Education

The coronavirus is forcing colleges and universities – large and small, famous, and not-so-well-known – to dramatically cut academic programs, student services, and lay off employees. Even Harvard University with its massive endowment has not been immune to the belt tightening. Cost estimates run into the hundreds of billions of dollars of lost revenue or additional costs to colleges and universities across in the U.S. In the spring of 2020, when most Americans thought the coronavirus might be under control in a matter of weeks, colleges began softer cost-cutting measures such as offering early retirements and implementing hiring freezes. But given the persistence of the pandemic, those measure proved to be much too little. Across the country more drastic cost saving measures are taking place. These include laying off employees (even tenured faculty, an anathema in academia), delaying graduate admissions, eliminating entire departments and degree programs, and reducing student support services. In some cases, entire colleges are vanishing as they are consolidated into other institutions. Over 300,000 jobs in higher education have been lost according the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Wave of Belt-Tightening

This wave of belt-tightening in 2020 comes in the midst of a longstanding relatively quiet recession in higher education. This financial crisis has been going on for years and has been brought on by reductions in State and Federal support for higher education, by decreasing enrollments, and by increasing student concerns about skyrocketing tuition and burdensome student debt. (Average student debt is now around $33,000 and much higher for graduate and professional students.) In response, many systems, like the University System of Georgia, were already closing and consolidating public colleges even before the coronavirus first arrived in the U.S. on January 20, 2020.

Student Health Needs More Attention

Too often in financial crises, businesses and institutions give too little attention to the wellbeing of stakeholders by their employees or in this case, students. The enduring coronavirus pandemic has only made a bad situation worse. Colleges’ costs for new safety measures have cost them millions. Students and parents have been reluctant to pay the same or nearly the same tuition for online classes. Freshmen enrollment is down 16% from 2019 as some students take a gap year or pursue other plans. Other students have sought out lower cost educational options.

Pandemic Affecting Social Change

Traditionally, higher education has been the linchpin for social mobility in the U.S. for lower income and poor students. But the pandemic is also affecting that avenue for social change. Some of these students seem to have given up on higher education, at least for now. This is reflected in an 8% reduction in awards of federal Pell Grants in 2020. These are educational funds given to deserving poor and lower income students to help them learn marketable skills and obtain undergraduate degrees or certifications.

What it Means for Student Health

It seems likely that the pandemic will be with us at least well into 2021, an almost unimaginable outcome in the spring of 2020 when quarantines and lockdowns began. As institutions of higher education continue their rounds of budget revisions and cuts, how will those decisions affect services that support the wellbeing of students? To what extent will decision makers take the wellbeing of vulnerable students into consideration? Will advocates of student health be included in the decisions? Will administrators make sure that their decisions sensitively recognize and address the mental health and wellbeing of their students? Will they recognize the enormous stress experienced by students – even in the best of times? Are they mindful that among traditional college age students that suicide is already the second leading cause of death, and that suicides almost invariably involve an untreated, poorly treated, or completely undetected emotional conditions?

Administrators Focus on Services to Support Student Health

I encourage administrators to revisit their Student Assistance Programs (SAP), campus counseling center services, and other services that support student health and wellbeing. In doing so, they should look for creative, proactive, cost-effective solutions to support, engage, and assist students in their wellbeing. Not doing so communicates another distressing message to students and parents.

About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

Sources

Nothing off limits…

NY Times

Shawn Hubler

Oct 26, 2020

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/10/26/us/colleges-coronavirus-budget-cuts.html

 

See 10 Years of Average Total Student Loan Debt

US News and World Report

Emma Kerr

Sept 15, 2020

https://www.usnews.com/education/best-colleges/paying-for-college/articles/see-how-student-loan-borrowing-has-risen-in-10-years

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help people and organizations achieve their full potential by providing mental health support and driving positive behavioral change.  For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

COVID-19 and the Rise of Discrimination Against Asian-Americans

The rapid global spread of COVID-19 and the drastic lifestyle changes it has forced upon many Americans has resulted in widespread increases in personal distress. At the same time, fear and anxiety have also been growing amid the heightened racial tensions, attacks, and micro-aggressions against Asian-Americans. An estimated 21 million Americans are of Asian descent.

Historically, vulnerable groups of people or entire nationalities have been stigmatized and negatively associated with pandemics. Most notably, Jews were widely persecuted and blamed for the bubonic plague that killed a third of Europe’s population in the 14th Century. The great flu pandemic of 1918-19 that killed 850,000 Americans and 50 million people worldwide, and whose origin is debated, was named the Spanish flu only because World War I censorship eliminated mentioning it in the media early in its outbreak in combatant countries – but not in neutral Spain. More recently Haitians, then gay men were blamed for the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s. As it is believed that the origin of COVID-19 started with the spread of the coronavirus from animals to humans in “wet markets” within Wuhan, China, American political leadership has reinforced stigmatization and hate crimes towards Asian Americans through exclusionary policies and racially-charged rhetoric.

Racism towards Asian-Americans is not a new topic. Dating back to the 1700s when Asians first arrived in America to present day, Asian-Americans have been faced with constant marginalization, verbal attacks, and micro-aggressions rooted in racism and xenophobia. From the use and exploitation of Asian immigrants during the California Gold Rush in the 1840s to the imprisonment of Japanese-Americans (many of whom were U.S. citizens) in concentration amps in the 1940s, Asian-Americans have dealt with a system embedded with racially motivated discriminatory policies. This in turn, has fostered resentment, racist attitudes, and discrimination against Asian communities, and immigrants in general, throughout American history.

Despite the World Health Organization’s (WHO) official name for COVID-19 or their advocacy for restraint from using cultural references or geographic locations in relation to disease names, President Trump and numerous other government officials and politicians have publicly referred to the virus with terms such as the “Chinese Virus,” “China Virus,” “Wuhan Virus,” and the “Kung Flu.” They have also made multiple public statements using derogatory language essentially “blaming” China for the spread of COVID-19 outside of China and in the U.S. Many have argued that the use of such terminology is xenophobic and increases the risks of hate crime against Asian-Americans through the promotion of stereotypes, bias, and exclusion. Additionally, linguists have established that using the adjective “Chinese” in the term “Chinese Virus” associates the virus with a specific ethnicity, which is highly inaccurate and dangerous. With racial harassment and targeting towards the Asian-American community having already been on the rise even before the President’s remarks, it clear that such rhetoric has failed to serve the community and reinforced simmering racist attitudes and behaviors against Asians.

According to the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) on hate crime data, 47.6% of Asian victims fail to report hate crimes to the police. With such inconsistencies in the level of reporting, it is unclear how severe the prevalence is of anti-Asian hate crimes. As 2020 data from NCVS regarding hate crime statistics is set to be released late 2021, researchers will be able to evaluate the level of increase in anti-Asian hate crimes and assess the level of changes in reporting. This will also help determine victims’ comfort levels in seeking police help.

Although much damage has already been done by the current administration blaming, the question arises as to how we can prevent further spreading of racist attitudes, beliefs, and micro-aggressions towards the Asian community. How can we create an environment that promotes healing instead of finger-pointing to create scapegoats for our current situation? How can we learn from historical events and work to prevent racialized fear in future situations? The current pandemic that has pushed us to a “new normal” is a matter of public health, not one of racial issues. Although the impact of labeling COVID-19 as the “Chinese Virus” may have long-lasting effects on emotional and mental health of Asian-Americans, it is critical that every organization within our country – including employers – confronts these acts of discrimination in order to better protect vulnerable populations.

About the Author

Yeji Jang, MSW Intern, is a graduate intern at Espyr, working in the Network and Provider Relations Department and with Espyr’s Chief Clinical Officer.  A graduate of the University of Georgia with a B.S. in Psychology, and having worked with immigrant populations, she is currently finishing her last semester at Indiana University’s Graduate School of Social Work. After graduation, Yeji will pursue the goal of becoming a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and then wants to practice clinical social work in a behavioral health setting.

Sources

Anti-Asian Hate Crime During the COVID-19 Pandemic: Exploring the Reproduction of Inequality

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12103-020-09545-1

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized counseling, coaching and consulting solutions help employers reduce healthcare costs by identifying and addressing employee mental health issues before they require more expensive, long term care. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

COVID-19 Pandemic and College Life: What Colleges Can Do to Address Student Mental Health Needs

COVID-19 has created a profound effect on all aspects collegiate life and especially on student mental health. It has brought upon a multitude of social, psychological, and safety challenges for students, on top of the high levels of stress that college students are already facing – even in the best of times. For many, the transition from campus life to remote learning has called for many academic, social, and personal changes for most college students – testing students’ ability to cope with change. It is important that colleges and universities continue to monitor and assess the mental health of students as the nation continues to progress through changes.

Here are recommendations scholars who study student mental health recently made on how schools should address the mental health challenges for students brought on by the pandemic.

Continue student advising via telecommunication means. Expand virtual office hours to create easy access for students who are experiencing the normal stress of college life in addition to the irregular learning environment brought about by COVID-19.

Reduce student stress. By taking a creative and flexible approach to Internship opportunities given the new environment.

Help students adapt research projects to the new normal environments. Encourage university career centers to adopt virtual services to assist students in the economic downturn.

University counseling centers should set up options to continue providing college students with counseling services at a distance (i.e., tele mental health counseling). Tele mental health has been found effective in treating anxiety and depressive symptoms and implementing tele mental health will facilitate the delivery of counseling services to address students’ pressing mental health concerns.

• University counseling centers should also provide options for students to join online support groups that enable them to share common concerns and receive social support. Further, university counseling centers and other departments should develop and pass public health messaging onto students, sharing coping resources, and encouraging them to take action to protect their mental health and wellbeing.

 

About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

 

Source

Addressing collegiate mental health needs amid COVID-19 pandemic

Psychiatry Res. 2020 Jun; 288: 113003.

Published online 2020 Apr 17. doi: 10.1016/j.psychres.2020.113003

PMCID: PMC7162776

PMID: 32315885

Yusen Zhaia,? and Xue Dub

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7162776/

 

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized coaching solutions help employers reduce healthcare costs by identifying and addressing employee mental health issues before they require more expensive, long term care. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

College Students – A Vulnerable Population for Suicide and Mental Health Issues

September is suicide awareness month. One alarming aspect of suicide is its frequency among young people, particularly college students. Defined as self-injurious behavior aimed at causing one’s death, suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people. Annually about 1,000 college students take their own lives. Thousands of their family members are affected by these deaths. Fellow students and faculty are traumatized, and campus life is disrupted. Thousands more commit non-fatal acts of self-harm to deal with extreme emotional pain.

September is also a month when all of America’s colleges and universities are back in session with in-person classes, virtual classes, or some combination of the two. Many continue to offer non-traditional, exclusively on-line programs of study for students who can earn degrees entirely via on-line instruction. But for many traditional college students in their late teens and early twenties returning to college is an emotional adjustment and challenge to their wellbeing. Many of these young people are often away from home, family, and friends for the first time – losing connection to the emotional support system they have known all their lives. They’re living with strangers, in a new setting, and working under intense pressure to achieve. Many have had limited experience with the new autonomy that comes with college life. Autonomy that also brings easier access to alcohol and illegal drugs, and new peer pressure. Their ability to adjust to change is challenged. Their interpersonal skills are tested as they develop a new social support system. They must learn to manage stress in this new environment while often coping with loneliness. They do all this with disrupted sleeping, eating, and exercise patterns. Now add in COVID-19. One can hardly imagine a more stressful situation for young people with limited life experience. This adjustment is made much more difficult for about one-fifth of students – those with some underlying mental health or substance abuse condition.

Obviously, college students are a vulnerable population. Vulnerable for suicide as proven by their high rate of death from that cause. But also vulnerable for mental health and substance abuse conditions in general. Especially so during the COVID-19 pandemic with its unusual and additional stresses. College administrators realize their responsibility for student’s mental health and safety but are faced with the dual challenge of reduced budgets and implementing COVID-19 precautions. What can they do to improve student access to mental health and preventative services and to ensure students’ wellbeing? Here are some suggestions:

  • Survey students and parents. Ask them about their mental health issues, needs, and expectations for campus support.
  • Provide accessible campus wellness activities. Activities that build resilience in students and normalize mental health on par with physical health.
  • Provide easy access to behavioral health screening services. Ones that also provide easy access to counselors.
  • Review on-campus student counseling center’s services, hours of operation, and accessibility. Is there a “waiting list” for services? Is 24/7 access to a counselor available for students with urgent needs? Are services being delivered in culturally competent way?
  • Train students, faculty, administrators, staff, and campus police in mental health first aid.
  • Offer a comprehensive suicide awareness and prevention program for students.
  • Engage rising first-year student early on with supportive services. Services that help him/her bridge the social and emotional transition from high school to college.
  • Include mental health of students in on-line educational programs. (There are about 500 nationally.) Do these students have equal access to your institution’s mental health services? Are their unique needs being addressed?
  • If you have fiduciary responsibilities for student and faculty health and wellbeing, examine your own attitudes and beliefs about sensitive issues like mental health, suicide, and emotional wellbeing. Make sure you recognize your own biases (it’s okay, we all have biases) and recognize how they influence your actions.

 

About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

 

Sources

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mental Health, Substance Use, and Suicidal Ideation During the COVID-19 Pandemic — United States, June 24–30, 2020

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/volumes/69/wr/mm6932a1.htm?s_cid=mm6932a1_w

Peterson C, Sussell A, Li J, Schumacher PK, Yeoman K, Stone DM. Suicide Rates by Industry and Occupation — National Violent Death Reporting System, 32 States, 2016. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep 2020; 69:57–62. DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15585/mmwr.mm6903a1external icon.

Suicide is the Second Leading Cause of Death Among College Students

https://www.safecolleges.com/suicide-second-highest-cause-of-death-among-college-students/

National Center For Education Statistics

https://nces.ed.gov/ccd/tables/201314_Virtual_Schools_table_3.asp

 

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized coaching solutions help employers reduce healthcare costs by identifying and addressing employee mental health issues before they require more expensive, long term care. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

Time Distortion – Another Strange Side Effect of the COVID-19 Pandemic

Have you been feeling like some days take forever? Or that it seems like the Spring was only yesterday? You are not alone. Recent research in the United Kingdom validated what many of us have been feeling – that one strange effect of the pandemic has been a distorted perception of time.

How we perceive the world around us and how we think about those perceptions influences how we feel and behave. And as to time, we all know that time passes at a constant and linear rate (unless of course you are a character in a Star Trek plot). But our subjective experience of linear time is influenced by our activity level and by our emotional state. The pandemic and its restrictions on normal activities has demonstrated that fact.

The British study of 604 participants looked into their perception of the flow of time during the lockdowns associated with COVID-19. The researchers found that more than eight out of ten said they experienced some type of changes to their perception of the passage of time. It found that the description of the distortion generally fell into two groupings. One group experienced time as passing more slowly. People in this group generally were older, reported more feelings of stress or depression, had less tasks to do, and generally felt more isolated and lonelier during the lockdown. Lending a sort of credence to the saying “time flies when you’re having fun,” the second group reported that time seemed to go by faster. This group tended to be younger, have more tasks to be engaged with, and reported less distress associated with the forced restriction of normal activities. The research not only validated what many of us have been feeling about the passage of time, but also demonstrated the powerful impact of loss of routine and our varying adaptation to it.

Here are some tips to re-set your internal clock:

  • Reclaim and commit to a daily and weekly routine. Our brain craves routine and predictability regardless of our age or status.
  • Spend time regularly outdoors. Spending time with nature can help us to relax mentally and outdoor activity is a great stress reducer.
  • Get regular sleep and rest. Not only is good sleep physically and mentally restorative, but regular sleep patterns help adjust our internal clocks.
  • Stay connected to family and friends. “Social distancing” is really physical distancing. Staying involved with family and friends may be a bit more challenging today than normal, but it’s important so we can reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.

 

About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, NCAC II is the Chief Clinical Officer at Espyr. For over 30 years, Norman has practiced in mental health, substance misuse, and EAP settings. He has also worked in leadership positions in both public and private sector behavioral health organizations. An author of four books, he is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health professional.

 

Sources

Perception of Time Has Shifted During COVID-19, New Study Reports

Sara Lindberg, M.Ed.

Verywell News

https://www.verywellmind.com/why-time-is-passing-so-strangely-during-covid-5075438?utm_campaign=list_stress&utm_medium=email&utm_source=cn_nl&utm_content=21312011&utm_term=

 

The Passage of time during the UK Covid-19 lockdown

Ruth S. Ogden

https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0235871

PLoS One. 2020;15(7): e0235871. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0235871

 

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized coaching solutions help employers reduce healthcare costs by identifying and addressing employee mental health issues before they require more expensive, long term care. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

Coronavirus Pandemic Stress and the National Weight Gain

Have Americans gained weight during the Coronavirus Pandemic? Apparently, the answer is yes. A recent Eating Well poll found that 36% of adults had gained weight. All were being very honest in their responses, I’m sure! On average their gain was 12.5 pounds. A WebMD poll of over 1,000 Americans found that 47% of women and 22% of men said they had gained weight during the Pandemic.

The clothing industry is taking notice as well. The trend should be a good one as more weight means new clothes. Some manufacturers are adding larger sizes to their offerings. Perfitly, an app that helps shoppers see how something fits before purchasing it, says shoppers are re-doing their profiles in much larger numbers compared to last summer. More along the lines they see usually in January, after holiday eating results in weight gains.

This is not surprising news. Stress levels among American are high nationally. Normal, easily accessible stress-relieving coping activities like socializing with family and friends, attending faith-based services, and enjoying sporting and entertainment events have been severely restricted. Surging levels of COVID 19 cases and deaths in many areas make returning soon to these once routine activities seem unlikely.

There is a relationship between mind and body that is producing this national bulking up. Each time we experience stress our bodies produce adrenaline and cortisol, often called the “stress hormone.” They cause the body to dump glucose into our blood streams to give us energy. This is the fight or flight response. It helped our ancestors escape saber-toothed cats, dire wolves, short-faced bears, and other giant, hungry predators looking for a snack. We are thankful this mind-body process was so successful for our ancestors; else we might not be reading this. But in our modern life especially with very high stress levels, it leads to regular spikes in blood sugar levels and then to cravings, overeating, and weight gain.

One theme many mental health professionals including myself encourage in their clients, is to focus on what one can change. And not so much on the things we cannot change. We cannot change the societal and public health effects of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Nor can we change the human fight or flight response. But we can take actions that will help us break the stress-weight gain cycle. Here are some tips – see if any might work for you:

  • Drink more water. Hydration is important for many health reasons, including managing stress. Stress causes us to confuse thirst for hunger. If you are suddenly hungry between meals, drink some water before reaching for a snack.
  • Make exercise a daily priority (physician-approved exercise, of course). Exercise is a great stress reducer. Be intentional. Plan regular exercise that fits your lifestyle and health status.
  • Give yourself permission to eat comfort foods – but – select healthier comfort foods as often as possible when you feel especially stressed and hungry. Examples of healthier comfort foods include popcorn, nuts, and tasty fresh fruits.
  • Beside exercise, look for other stress-reducing daily activities that fit your lifestyle and health status. These may include gardening, yoga, meditation, reading, spending more time in nature, and many other simple and accessible activities.
  • Don’t be too hard on yourself. Be your own best friend. Notice successes, however small, and encourage progress.

By the way, awareness is the first step and you just took it! Keep up the good work!

 

About the Author

Norman Winegar, LCSW, CEAP, is the Chief Clinical Officer for Espyr. Norman has worked in the mental health field for over 30 years and is frequently called on for presentations and as a panelist to share his expertise and experience as a mental health clinician.

 

Sources

Eating Well
http://www.eatingwell.com/article/7826694/weight-watchers-pandemic-weight-gain-survey/

WebMD
https://www.webmd.com/lung/news/20200518/webmd-poll-many-report-weight-gain-during-shutdown

U.S. News and World Report
https://www.usnews.com/news/us/articles/2020-07-20/sizing-up-as-pandemic-surges-so-do-waistlines

Verywellmind
https://www.verywellmind.com/how-stress-can-cause-weight-gain-3145088?utm_campaign=list_stress&utm_medium=email&utm_source=cn_nl&utm_content=20871016&utm_term=

 

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized coaching solutions help employers reduce healthcare costs by identifying and addressing employee mental health issues before they require more expensive, long term care. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.

When A Mask Is Just Not Enough

As COVID-19 continues to spread and availability of a safe and effective vaccine is still in question, we need to accept that this “new normal” is here to stay for the foreseeable future.  For those who have had COVID-19 or get it in the future, we still have much to learn about lingering and long term health effects.  Everyone, whether you’ve had the virus or not, is susceptible to the effects of COVID-19 on mental health – both short term and long term.

The Effects of COVID-19 on Mental Health Vary

The CDC reported recently on how fear and anxiety associated with a pandemic can be stressful, and in some cases, overwhelming in adults and children.   Social distancing, reduced social interactions and even working from home can make people feel isolated and lonely, increasing stress and anxiety.  Pandemic stress can cause:

  • Fear and worry about your own health and the health of your loved ones, your financial situation or job.
  • Changes in sleep or eating patterns.
  • Difficulty sleeping or concentrating.
  • Worsening of chronic health problems.
  • Worsening of mental health conditions.
  • Increased use of tobacco, and/or alcohol and other substances.

What’s more, there may be longer term, more serious mental health effects from COVID-19 as well.  A recent study with COVID patients from Wuhan, China as reported in Psychological Medicine explored the question of whether surviving a life-threatening illness such as COVID-19 put people at a greater risk for acute stress reactions and longer term for PTSD. Early research from the Wuhan study indicates it may and is consistent with earlier findings about the SARS pandemic.

Everyone Reacts Differently to Stress

The CDC report points out that everyone responds to this stress in different ways.  How you respond to stress during the COVID-19 pandemic can depend on your background, your social support from family or friends, your financial situation, your health and emotional background, the community you live in, and many other factors. People who may respond more strongly to the stress of a crisis include:

  • People who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 (for example, older people, and people of any age with certain underlying medical conditions.
  • Children and teens.
  • People caring for family members or loved ones.
  • Frontline workers such as health care providers and first responders,
  • Essential workers who work in the food industry.
  • People who have existing mental health conditions.
  • People who use substances or have a substance use disorder.
  • People who have lost their jobs, had their work hours reduced, or had other major changes to their employment.
  • People who have disabilities or developmental delay.
  • People who are socially isolated from others, including people who live alone, and people in rural or frontier areas.
  • Racial and ethnic minority groups.  See our blog post on Discrimination and Health
  • Those who do not have access to information in their primary language.
  • People experiencing homelessness.
  • People who live in congregate (group) settings.

Healthy ways to cope with stress

Here’s the CDC’s advice on how to cope with pandemic induced stress.

  • Know what to do if you are sick and are concerned about COVID-19. Contact a health professional before you start any self-treatment for COVID-19.
  • Know where and how to get treatment and other support services and resources, including counseling or therapy (in person or through telehealth services).  To this point we would add, contact your company’s EAP or Human Resources department.
  • Take care of your emotional health. Taking care of your emotional health will help you think clearly and react to the urgent needs to protect yourself and your family.
  • Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.
  • Take care of your body.
    • Take deep breaths, stretch or  meditate
    • Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals
    • Exercise regularly
    • Get plenty of sleep
    • Avoid excessive alcohol and drug use
  • Make time to unwind. Try to do some other activities you enjoy.
  • Connect with others. Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling.
  • Connect with your community- or faith-based organizations. While social distancing measures are in place, consider connecting online, through social media, or by phone or mail.

About Espyr

For over 30 years Espyr, has provided innovative mental health solutions to organizations operating  under some of the most challenging conditions. Espyr’s portfolio of customized coaching solutions help employers reduce healthcare costs by identifying and engaging at-risk employees and addressing their mental health issues before they develop into more expensive, long-term healthcare situations. For more information on how Espyr can help your organization, call Espyr at 888-570-3479 or click here.