Tending to Your Emotional Wellbeing In The Age of Pandemic

Ironically, May is Mental Health Awareness month as the world manages through the COVID-19 pandemic that so tests our wellbeing.  This year, Spring unfolded in 2020 like it does every year. So too did a wave of emotional distress associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.   In terms of people’s mental health, the social isolation, quarantines, working from home, or even worse- losing one’s livelihood- has robbed many people of experiences that provide a sense of purpose and joy in their lives.  We’ve had to put aside activities from which meaning is commonly derived.  Activities like going to work, with its inherent socialization value and accompanying sense of accomplishment, achievement and of contribution to a mission.  Also gone are socializing in groups with friends and extended family; attending in-person faith activities; attending school or college classes; exercising with others; and participating in or viewing sporting or entertainment events.  These normal, routine activities play a large role in not only providing structure, but also in providing meaning and enjoyment to life.

 

Chart showing levels of anxiety due to COVID-19

 

Now that Spring is here, there are more options to improve our mental wellbeing despite the stress, anxiety and related mental health issues brought on by the pandemic.  Many research studies have shown the physical and mental health benefits of exercise or for that matter any physical activity. But what if you’re not a gym rat, running is not your thing or you don’t own a Peloton?

Get outside and walk

There are many wonderful physical and mental health benefits of walking.  Walking improves self-perception and self-esteem, mood and sleep quality, and it reduces stress, anxiety and fatigue. Physically active people have up to a 30% reduced risk of becoming depressed, and staying active helps those who are depressed recover.

Moderate physical activity, like walking, can improve a person’s cognition (thinking), while decreasing symptoms of depression, anxiety, and even schizophrenia. Walking can help relieve or lessen stress.

And if you live near a park or a forest, walking can be even more beneficial.  Research has shown that walks in the woods dramatically improve mental health. Forestry England has gathered data from a string of studies that it says shows there is strong scientific evidence that visiting a forest can improve mood and attention span, and even enhance psychological stress recovery.  According to Forestry England, walking among trees reduces levels of cortisol, a hormone associated with stress, and a forest walk can boost the immune system through breathing in phytoncides, which trees emit to protect themselves from germs and insects.

Tend to your garden, tend to your mental health

People are extremely resilient despite today’s unusual challenges.  This mental health fact was highlighted in a recent publication in, of all things, the journal, Landscape and Urban Planning.  Research has long found that spending time in natural settings has health and wellbeing benefits.  This research also found that tending to a small garden is actually a mood enhancing activity.  And gardening is something available to millions of Americans who have a garden spot in their yards or a space as small as a balcony, porch, patio or deck.  The study involving several thousand adults found that gardening has as much benefit toward improving one’s mood as does that most frequently recommended stress-reliever, exercise. It found that gardening had as significant impact on one’s sense of wellbeing (happiness) as walking, biking, or eating out at a sit-down restaurant (remember that?). 

How can an activity that is usually much less intense than exercise impart similar wellbeing benefits?  It’s because gardening embodies many aspects that are associated with a sense of wellbeing and a reduction of the subjective feeling of being stressed.  Gardening involves activities such as being out of doors; engaging in light exercise that also requires some level- but not an intense level- of mental engagement; being present in the moment (mindfulness); being surrounded by plants and nature; and having the prospect of eating well.   There is also a sense of purpose in gardening and that is growing the garden to fruition.  And there is an opportunity to let go of the great creator of stress-perfectionism – and a chance to observe measurable, concrete progress as the garden grows.

So, this Mental Health Awareness month take advantage of Spring, the warm weather and sunshine.  Get outside and walk and if you’ve never considered gardening now is a great time to start.   Maybe gardening will be come part of our “new normal.”

About Espyr

Espyr has been helping people – employees, students, members –  achieve and maintain good health so they can perform at their best for over 30 years.  Clients in the most challenging occupations rely on Espyr’s industry leading coaching, counseling and mental health advocacy  programs  to maintain employee health and well-being.  For more information contact Jeffrey Joo at 888-570-3479 or jjoo@espyr.com.

 

Burnout can ignite like a flame in this match.

Seven Steps To Avoid Or Reverse Burnout

In our last post we defined burnout, described the causes of burnout and provided a do-it-yourself quiz to help you know whether you may be suffering from burnout.

We’ve all heard colleagues or friends talk about “feeling burned out.”  You may have felt that way yourself from time to time.  Medical researchers have studied burnout for a number of years, but the concept has always been a bit fuzzy.  But that’s changed now that the World Health Organization has officially recognized burnout as a legitimate medical disorder.  Workers and employers need to reconsider the causes and dangers of burnout.

How do you know if you’re suffering from burnout?

According to the WHO, doctors can diagnose someone with burnout if they meet the following symptoms:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
  • Reduced professional efficacy

The dangers of burnout

Whether you may have a personal concern about burnout or you’re an employer with workers complaining of it, burnout should not be taken lightly.

A CNBC report last year quoted an article in the Harvard Business Review that stated burnout accounts for an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion in healthcare spending each year.  A 2017 study in the journal PLoS One cited major health risks related to job burnout.  Risks include type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal issues, high cholesterol, even death for those under 45.

High stress jobs don’t always lead to burnout.  Stress, if managed well doesn’t create a health hazard, and in fact can be a good thing. Stress can give you a jolt of energy, motivate you to accomplish tasks, even give you a short term memory boost.

Conversely, employees can still suffer from burnout in low stress jobs. Some individuals and certain occupations are more susceptible to burnout than others.

Man feeling burned out, holding his head in his hands

Signs of burnout

Burnout is avoidable and if you suffer from it, it is reversible. There are red flags that will pop up and warn you that you’re in burnout mode and it’s time to do something about it.  Some signs of burnout are subtle and others are easy to recognize.  Some examples you should watch for:

Become aware of unhealthy eating

When you are stressed, it is important to watch your diet. Stress uses a lot of energy; consequently, your immunity breaks down and your system may be depleted of many important nutrients.

Recognize weakening relationships

Personal relationships can be easily damaged when you are experiencing burnout at work or at home. Projects can be both emotionally and physically draining, and when all your energy is depleted, you have nothing left to contribute to a relationship.

Acknowledge any continual anger

Anger is often generated as a result of burnout. Listen to your feelings and assess if there is irritation just under the surface. Ask a trusted friend to give you feedback. You will find that it can be helpful to discuss the aggravations of your job on a regular basis with an objective person (usually a person who is not associated with your job or with the particular problem you are experiencing).

Look at your interpersonal investments

In order to minimize your stress at work and at home, you may try to protect yourself by eliminating any extra interpersonal investment. To accomplish this, you resort to limiting the expenditure of your energy, time, and emotional involvement. This is usually when you become brief and curt with people.

Notice emotional distance

Isolation becomes an easy solution when there is a lot of emotional stress involved. In this protective mode, you move away emotionally to guard against experiencing even more burnout that could be generated by helping other people.

Burnout can ignite like a flame in this match.

Photo by Yaoqi LAI on Unsplash

Handling burnout

CNBC asked a panel of experts  how employees can avoid — and even reverse — burnout.  Here’s what the experts said.

1. Learn your own strengths

If your job doesn’t fit your skill set, it’s easy to become disengaged.   Look at new projects or even new positions to get energized and send burnout packing.  “Workers who are truly engaged spend about four times as many hours doing what they do best every day, in comparison to doing what they don’t do well,” said Jim Harter, Ph.D., chief scientist of workplace management and well-being for Gallup. Getting involved in activities that develop your strengths further can help you feel even more energized, confident and motivated.

2. Understand your weaknesses

In order to understand what you need to work on, it’s important to figure out what, exactly, is holding you back. Self-assessment is essential; without it you can’t even begin to grow. Can you improve your knowledge or skills? Learn new ones?  There are many online courses offering management and leadership classes.

3. Develop strong partners at work

It’s not always true, but friends at work can help boost your efficiency and performance. Having friends at work can make it easier to seek advice without feeling judged, allowing you to gain access to feedback and information you might not otherwise get.  Developing strong relationships and having people you can rely on — plus being a reliable partner to others — goes a long way toward preventing burnout according to Harter.

Whether you’re concerned with burnout or not, numerous studies have shown that friends are truly good for your physical and mental health.  Adults with strong social support have a reduced risk of many health problems, like depression, high blood pressure obesity and even dementia.

4. Communicate

If you are feeling burned out, don’t try to suck it up or hide it.  It won’t work.  A conversation with higher-ups can be valuable in fostering support, ideas and feedback for everyone involved.  A good manager will be open to discussing your situation, supporting you through a rough time, and working with you to address the stressors causing the burnout. Sharing what you’re going through and feeling heard is, in and of itself, a powerful step toward improving your situation.

5. Identify a good manager

A recent Gallup study on stress and burnout at work found that employees who felt supported by their managers were overwhelmingly less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis. Employees who felt supported by their manager are about 70 percent less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis, according to Gallup.

And two additional points that we would add:

6. Keep good health habits

Though not part of CNBC’s expert feedback, we would add some basic advice that will help in relieving stress and thus burnout: eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep.

7. Consider a change

Sometimes you’re just in the wrong place – the wrong job, a boss you don’t like, a company culture that conflicts with your personal values.  You may need a change – a new position in your company, a new company, maybe even a new career direction.

About Espyr

Espyr is a leading behavioral health company offering a portfolio of coaching, training and assistance products that span a continuum of care from restoring well-being to enhancing personal and organizational potential.  Among our many training programs, we offer our clients training for their employees and management teams on how to avoid and reverse burnout. To learn more about how Espyr can help you call us at 888-570-3479.

 

 

Mental Health Disorders: Recognizing And Helping Those With PTSD

For many people, PTSD is hard to understand. Why does it happen to some people, but not to others? Does occurrence of PTSD indicate a weakness or some other mental health issue ? Are millennials more prone to mental health disorders like PTSD since we’re hearing so much more about it now than with previous generations?

Let’s set the record straight. PTSD is a real health issue. It’s not new and not happening differently or more frequently today than previously, though we may be diagnosing it more effectively today than in the past. Most frequently, we associate PTSD with veterans who have been involved in combat, but PTSD is not restricted to combat. It can occur in children as well as adults, and occurs in both men and women who have never experienced combat.

What is PTSD?

According to the National Center for PTSD, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that can develop after exposure to a terrifying event or ordeal in which grave physical harm occurred or was threatened. Traumatic events that can trigger PTSD include violent personal assaults such as rape or mugging, natural or human-caused disasters, accidents, or military combat.

First responders can develop mental health disorders like PTSD from traumatic events like 9/11

PTSD can be extremely disabling. Military troops who served in the Vietnam and Gulf Wars; rescue workers involved in the aftermath of disasters like the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C.; survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing; survivors of accidents, rape, physical and sexual abuse, and other crimes; immigrants fleeing violence in their countries; survivors of the 1994 California earthquake, the 1997 North and South Dakota floods, and hurricanes Hugo and Andrew; and people who witness traumatic events are among those at risk for developing PTSD. Families of victims can also develop the disorder.

How common is PTSD?

Going through trauma is not rare. About 6 of every 10 men and 5 of every 10 women experience at least one trauma in their lives. Women are more likely to experience sexual assault and child sexual abuse. Men are more likely to experience accidents, physical assault, combat, disaster, or to witness death or injury.

  • About 7-8% of the population will have PTSD at some point in their lives.
  • About 8 million adults have PTSD during a given year. This is only a small portion of those who have gone through a trauma.
  • About 10% of women develop PTSD sometime in their lives compared with about 4% of 100 men.

Soldiers in battle can develop mental health disorders like PTSD

According to the US Department of Veteran Affairs, the number of veterans with PTSD varies by service era:

  • Operations Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Enduring Freedom (OEF)

About 11-20% veterans who served in OIF or OEF have PTSD in a given year.

  • Gulf War (Desert Storm)

About 12% of Gulf War Veterans have PTSD in a given year.

  • Vietnam War

About 15% of Vietnam Veterans were currently diagnosed with PTSD at the time of the most recent study in the late 1980s, the National Vietnam Veterans Readjustment Study. It is estimated that about 30 out of every 100 Vietnam Veterans have had PTSD in their lifetime.

As media attention to PTSD has grown and employers become more attuned to the importance of holistic health, PTSD has increasingly become a focal point for workplace discussions. Historically, first responders and medical personnel have been monitored and treated for PTSD symptoms. Police officers, firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders routinely come across scenes involving violence, wreckage along interstates and highways, or the horrific devastation of natural disasters or bombings. Medical professionals are also frequently confronted with life-or-death situations in rendering emergency care.

Beyond these high-risk groups, individuals in any profession may have been the victim of an assault, rape, or auto collision and experience flashbacks or anxiety in the workplace. Recent headlines of school shootings, convenience store robberies, and construction company fatalities underscore the need to address PTSD at the workplace on a much broader basis.

How do mental health disorders like PTSD develop?

Most people who are exposed to a traumatic, stressful event experience some of the symptoms of PTSD in the days and weeks following exposure. Available data suggest that about 8% of men and 20% of women go on to develop PTSD, and roughly 30% of these individuals develop a chronic form that persists throughout their lifetimes.

The course of chronic PTSD usually involves periods of symptom increase followed by remission or decrease, although some individuals may experience symptoms that are unremitting and severe. Some older veterans, who report a lifetime of only mild symptoms, experience significant increases in symptoms following retirement, severe medical illness in themselves or their spouses, or reminders of their military service (such as reunions or media broadcasts of the anniversaries of war events).

PTSD can affect memory and negatively impact relationships with others. Normal sights and sounds can trigger an intense emotional response and mentally transport the person back to darker times.

Do other illnesses tend to accompany PTSD?

As with many mental health disorders, co-occurring mental and/or physical conditions are common. Co-occurring depression, alcohol or other substance abuse, or another anxiety disorder are not uncommon with PTSD. The likelihood of treatment success is increased when these other conditions are appropriately identified and treated as well. Headaches, gastrointestinal complaints, immune system problems, dizziness, chest pain, or discomfort in other parts of the body are common. Often, doctors treat the symptoms without being aware that they stem from PTSD. The National Institute of Mental Health encourages primary care providers to ask patients about experiences with violence, recent losses, and traumatic events, especially if symptoms keep recurring. When PTSD is diagnosed, referral to a mental health professional who has had experience treating people with the disorder is recommended.

How to recognize someone experiencing PTSD

There are a number of signs that you might observe when someone you know is experiencing PTSD:

The presence of one or more of the following:

  • Spontaneous or cued recurrent, involuntary, and intrusive distressing memories of the traumatic events
  • Recurrent distressing dreams in which the content or affect (i.e. feeling) of the dream is related to the events flashbacks or other dissociative reactions in which the individual feels or acts as if the traumatic events are recurring
  • Intense or prolonged psychological distress at exposure to internal or external cues that symbolize or resemble an aspect of the traumatic events
  • Physiological reactions to reminders of the traumatic events

Persistent avoidance of distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings about or closely associated with the traumatic events or of external reminders (i.e., people, places, conversations, activities, objects, situations)

Two or more of the following:

  • Inability to remember an important aspect of the traumatic events (not due to head injury, alcohol, or drugs)
  • Persistent and exaggerated negative beliefs or expectations about oneself, others, or the world (e.g., “I am bad,” “No one can be trusted,” “The world is completely dangerous”).
  • Repeated, distorted blame of self or others about the cause or consequences of the traumatic events
  • Persistent fear, horror, anger, guilt, or shame
  • Markedly diminished interest or participation in significant activities
  • Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
  • Persistent inability to experience positive emotions

Two or more of the following marked changes in arousal and reactivity:

  • Irritable or aggressive behavior
  • Reckless or self-destructive behavior
  • Hyper vigilance
  • Exaggerated startle response
  • Problems with concentration
  • Difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless sleep

Also, clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning not attributed to the direct physiological effects of medication, drugs, or alcohol or another medical condition, such as traumatic brain injury.

What should employers do?

How can employers assist employees suffering PTSD, whether from occupational or non-occupational sources, and how can they minimize and mitigate its impact on the workplace? The Disability Management Employer Coalition (DMEC) is an association dedicated to providing focused education, knowledge, and networking for absence and disability professionals. DMEC offers the following advice for employers.

First, employers should make mental health resources available as part of their benefits package and employee assistance program. This can include access to mental health professionals and behavioral specialists. PTSD can be hard to diagnose and may affect individuals differently, severely impacting a person’s productivity and posing added risk to the person, coworkers, and customers. It is important to offer assistance and provide help as soon as the need is recognized.

Mental health disorders like PTSD can be debilitating at work.

Second, as with mental health disorders in general, employers can help increase awareness and understanding of PTSD in the workforce. Managers, supervisors, and employees need to know how PTSD might impact them and how to spot potential symptoms among co-workers. They need to know how to access resources and assistance in these instances.

Third, companies can educate workers about self-care techniques and ways to mitigate PTSD. These might include running and exercise, meditation and yoga, or use of therapy animals. Just as the condition manifests differently in individuals, the ways to relieve symptoms also vary.

PTSD warrants increasing awareness and attention. Elevate the conversation in your organization and offer assistance to those in need. Continue to promote the value of mental health resources in the workplace and eliminate stigma associated with mental health disorders. Effective PTSD treatments are available once the condition is identified.

How is PTSD Treated?

Fortunately, through research supported by the National Institute of Mental Health and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), effective treatments have been developed to help people with PTSD. Research is also helping scientists better understand the condition and how it affects the brain and the rest of the body.

The main treatments for people with PTSD are psychotherapy, medication, or a combination of the two. Everyone is different, so a treatment that works for one person may not work for another. Some people may need to try different treatments to find what works best for their symptoms. Regardless of what treatment option you chose, it is important for anyone with PTSD to be treated by a mental health professional who is experienced with PTSD.

Many trauma survivors do not experience PTSD, and many people in intimate relationships, families, and friendships with individuals who have PTSD do not experience severe relational problems. People with PTSD can create and maintain successful intimate relationships by:

  • Establishing a personal support network that will help the survivor cope with PTSD while he or she maintains or rebuilds family and friend relationships with dedication, perseverance, hard work, and commitment
  • Sharing feelings honestly and openly with an attitude of respect and compassion
  • Continually strengthening cooperative problem-solving and communication skills
  • Including playfulness, spontaneity, relaxation, and mutual enjoyment in the relationship

About Espyr

Espyr is a leader in behavioral health. Through innovative behavioral health and leadership development products, we help employees and organizations achieve their full potential. This includes teaching management teams how to recognize and help employees suffering from mental health disorders such as PTSD. To learn more about Espyr call us at 888-570-3479.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Announcing The Launch of Realyze™ – A Targeted, Proactive Solution To Employee Behavioral Health Conditions

For immediate release April 25, 2019

Marietta, GA: Espyr today is launching REALYZE, an innovative behavioral health solution that packs a one-two punch for employers. First, REALYZE identifies employees who have or are on the verge of having conditions like depression, stress, anxiety, PTSD or substance abuse. Then, it provides a proactive outreach ensuring at-risk employees are engaged with the appropriate behavioral health solution.

One in five adults will suffer some form of mental illness in a given year. For employees in high-stress jobs, that number can go much higher. For various reasons: the stigma of mental illness, denial or simply not knowing where to turn, the majority of those affected will not seek help. That’s bad news for productivity, absenteeism and employee turnover if you’re an employer.

“Employers are becoming increasingly aware of the impact of employee behavioral health problems, especially those employers in high stress occupations,“ according to Espyr CEO, Rick Taweel. “Employers need a simple, effortless solution that will proactively engage troubled employees and align them with the most efficient and effective services. With REALYZE, in many cases those services may be the employer’s existing wellness programs. REALYZE will actually make their wellness programs more effective and improve their return on investment.”

REALYZE starts with a clinically validated online behavioral health risk assessment. Employees with moderate-to-high-risk assessment scores are contacted by a licensed behavioral health professional, a REALYZE Guide, who reviews the assessment result with the employee and may provide further assessment. The Guide then connects the employee to the appropriate behavioral health service, which could be the employer’s existing wellness programs, other behavioral health solutions provided by Espyr, community behavioral health programs or the employer’s health plan if long term counseling is needed. The Guide remains involved throughout the process, ensuring employees stay engaged, conducting follow-ups and increasing the likelihood of successful outcomes.

About Espyr: Espyr is a leader in behavioral health. We provide a continuum of behavioral health care from acute and chronic health conditions to leadership development, all designed to help people and organizations reach their full potential. For more information go to espyr.com.

Contact: Jeffrey Joo

Jjoo@espyr.com

678.324.4177

 

Workaholics often have work/life balance issues

Work/Life Balance: Are You A Workaholic Or Do You Just Love Your Job?

.You work long hours. After dinner you whip out your laptop to take care of unfinished business. When it’s time for bed you’re thinking about what’s in store for tomorrow. Your mind is so active you find it hard to fall asleep.  Work/life balance seems to be an elusive concept.

Sound familiar? For many of us, it does. Does that make you a workaholic? What can you do about it?

Someone who just can't stop thinking about work may have work/life balance issues

A recent article by Nancy P. Rothbard and Lieke ten Brummelhuis in the Harvard Business Review explored the differences between being a workaholic and just working long hours. Furthermore, it considered whether there are differences, particularly health differences, between workaholics who are engaged in their work and those who aren’t.

Workaholics and work/life balance

Workaholics have a compulsive drive to work hard, thinking about work constantly, and feeling guilty and restless when they are not working. Workaholism is often associated with working long hours, but the two are distinct: it’s possible to work long hours without being obsessed with work, and it is possible to be obsessed with work but only work 35 hours a week or less.

Workaholics can suffer a number of adverse mental health impacts such as stress, anxiety, depression and sleep problems. What’s more, as we’ve pointed out in previous blog postings, behavioral and physical health problems often go hand in hand; workaholics have an increased risk of developing cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

Study findings

The authors conducted a study with 763 participants who were surveyed about their work tendencies, work motivations and  hours worked per week. Participants also completed a health screening which provided information about their biomarkers, such as waist measurement, triglycerides, blood pressure, and cholesterol. In aggregate, these biomarkers are a reliable gauge for an employee’s risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and diabetes — what is referred to as Risk for Metabolic Syndrome (RMS)

The study found that work hours were not related to any health issues, while workaholism was. Specifically, employees who worked long hours (typically more than 40 hours a week), but who did not obsess about work, did not have increased levels of RMS and reported fewer health complaints than employees who demonstrated workaholism. Workaholics, whether or not they worked long hours, reported more health complaints and had increased risk for metabolic syndrome; they also reported a higher need for recovery, more sleep problems, more cynicism, more emotional exhaustion, and more depressive feelings than employees who merely worked long hours but did not have workaholic tendencies.

What if you love what you do?

Workaholics often recognize that they’re obsessed with their work, that their work/life balance is off. Their excuse is that they love what they do. Does that matter?

The study differentiated between those who were engaged in their work – enjoyed what they were doing and were easily absorbed in it – and those who weren’t. The study revealed that both types of workaholics reported more psychosomatic health complaints (e.g., headache, stomach problems) and mental health complaints (e.g., sleep problems, depressive feelings) than non-workaholics. However, non-engaged workaholics had higher RMS — a 4.2% higher risk — than engaged workaholics, suggesting that loving your work can mitigate some of the risk of obsessing over it.

The author’s conclude with two key findings:

  1. When it comes to effects on health, working long hours is not as bad as obsessing over work.
  2. Workaholics who love their jobs are somewhat protected from the most severe health risks. However, they still reported more depressive feelings, sleep problems, various psychosomatic health complaints, and a higher need for recovery than non-workaholics. These are all signs that well-being among workaholics, regardless of how much they love their job, can be impaired.

Fixing your work/life balance

The authors offer several steps to reduce stress and possible health conditions learned from their study.

Begin with acknowledging when your relationship to work is unhealthy.  Does work feel like it’s out of control?  Is it undermining your outside relationships?

Regain control over your work behavior. One way to do this is by setting clear rules for how many hours you will work each day. This can help you accept that there is a point at which you’ve done enough work for the day. If you have trouble “switching off,” you might want to stop working two or three hours before bed. Taking up enjoyable non-work activities, such as seeing friends, watching a movie, reading a book, or learning a new skill, can also help you psychologically detach from work.

Consider why you work excessively and compulsively. The author’s found a striking difference in work motivation between engaged and non-engaged workaholics. Engaged workaholics worked because they enjoyed their work or found their work meaningful. These are intrinsic motivators. Non-engaged workaholics were more likely to work for extrinsic motivators such as money and status. Intrinsic motivation is associated with more optimism, effort, and persistence.  Extrinsic motivation often instigates anxiety and undermines persistence, making failure more likely.

About Espyr

Espyr is a leader in behavioral health, offering innovative solutions to help people and organizations achieve their full potential.

For more information on how we can help your company call 888-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.

The Surprising Link Between Mind, Body and Healthcare Costs

Although usually treated separately, mental health and physical health can influence each other in many important, surprising ways. Ignoring one or the other in your benefits offering can significantly impact your employees’ quality of life, your business and, more specifically, your healthcare costs.

This is the first of several articles we’ll publish this year describing how behavioral and physical health conditions co-occur, how that impacts employer healthcare costs and the growing recognition of the importance of integrated medical and behavioral healthcare.

How Mental Health Affects the Body

Mental health affects more people than you think. In fact, the National Alliance on Mental Illness tells us almost one in five U.S. adults – 43.8 million people – experience some form of mental illness in a given year. Whether depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, addiction or any one of a wide range of problems, poor mental health can affect your ability to make healthy decisions and affect your body’s ability to fight off chronic conditions.

In a BlueCross BlueShield article, psychiatrist and BCBS medical director Dr. Ann Marie Oberheu says neglecting your mental health can lead to more serious health complications, including:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Weakened immune system
  • Obesity
  • And premature death

“Depression alone causes the abnormal function of neurotransmitters in the brain,” says Dr. Oberheu. “This can lead to chronic fatigue, insomnia and increased sensitivity to aches and pains.”

How Physical Health Affects the Mind

Since the mind and body are connected, the physical state also affects the mental. For many physical medical conditions, the effects go beyond the visual signs and symptoms; they can impact the patient’s psychological well-being, as well, affecting his or her quality of life.

In an article by the Mental Health Foundation, they explore the mental health ramifications of a seemingly benign physical illness – psoriasis. Apparently, the effects of this fairly common autoimmune disease (as many as 7.5 million sufferers in the U.S.) go much deeper than the red flaky sores on the surface of the skin. The dramatic emotional effects include:

  • About 1/3 experience anxiety and depression
  • 1 in 3 experience feelings of humiliation
  • 1 in 5 report being rejected and stigmatized
  • 1 in 10 admit to contemplating suicide

Even worse, emotional distress can trigger a psoriasis flare, which, of course, triggers further stress. This cycle can be very troublesome for both mind and body.

In an article posted by Everyday Health, this connection is further explained by Dr. Charles Goodstein, a clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University’s Langone School of Medicine in New York City. He says the brain is intimately connected to our endocrine system, which secretes hormones that can have a powerful influence on emotional health. “Thoughts and feelings as they are generated within the mind,” says Dr. Goodstein, “can influence the outpouring of hormones from the endocrine system, which, in effect, control much of what goes on within the body.”

What Does It Mean For Employers?

When a mental disorder – for example depression, anxiety, substance abuse – co-occurs with another illness, it is often more difficult to treat the physical condition as well as the mental one, outcomes tend to be poorer and costs are higher.

There is growing awareness that mental and medical illnesses, particularly chronic conditions, frequently co-occur. Studies have shown that up to 40% of medical claims costs may be a direct result of behavioral health conditions.  We know that 25% of the total population suffers from multiple chronic conditions and that 29% of adults with a medical disorder also have at least one behavioral health disorder.

As businesses seek ways to control ever-increasing healthcare costs, there is growing recognition that mental health must become part of an employer’s overall healthcare plan. Traditional health & wellness as well as population health management programs do not address the impact of behavioral health conditions on physical well-being and the associated costs.

That’s why Espyr®has developed Spotlight®. Spotlight is a unique population health management program that addresses the large hidden costs of behavioral health when certain behavioral health conditions are co-morbid with chronic physical health conditions.  Spotlight uses proprietary data analytics modeling to identify those individuals who are at highest risk for future medical claims andare most likely to engage with a behavioral health coach.  This information is then used to create a plan for targeted and individualized behavioral health interventions.

For more information on Spotlightor how Espyr can help your company deal with today’s complicated health issues, call 888-570-3479 or go to espyr.com.

 

 

Espyr Chief Clinical Officer Norman Winegar to Speak on Mental Health Panel

Depression and other mental health issues are more common than most of us would think.  40 million Americans live with depression, and 1 in 5 Americans is diagnosed with a mental health issue in a given year. Unfortunately, those who suffer from mental health issues often refrain from getting the help they need due to the stigma attached to mental health.

On Oct. 15, Norman Winegar, Espyr’s Chief Clinical Officer, will join a distinguished panel of mental health experts to discuss what employers can do to relieve the stigma that prevents employees from getting the professional help they need. The event, #FINDYOURWORDS: Breaking the Silence Around Mental Health and Wellness, is presented by Kaiser Permanente.

The event will begin with keynote speaker, Dr. Sally Saba, Vice President of Operations, Performance, and Compliance, National Diversity and Inclusion at Kaiser Permanente, who will share a compelling story about her personal journey and struggle with mental health.  The panel discussion that follows will include a representative from the State of Georgia Department of Behavioral Health and community advocates.

As a leader in behavioral health, Espyr is honored to participate in this important conversation.  The event, which will take place in Atlanta and was open to the public, sold out very quickly.  For those interested in learning more about how employers can help relieve the stigma of mental health,  we will provide a synopsis in a blog posting following the event.

 

Suicides On The Rise: What Can Employers Do?

Earlier this year, we endured a one-two punch of the suicides of fashion icon Kate Spade and author/TV personality Anthony Bourdain.   As always happens following celebrity suicides, a barrage of TV, news and social media stories followed exploring, in intricate detail,  how they died and what led up to their fateful decisions. Unfortunately, these tragedies – and the ever-present news coverage – often lead to more of the same. In a study published by the International Journal of Epidemiology, media reports of suicides of well-known figures can trigger suicides in viewers and readers. When someone struggling with mental health issues sees that someone with similar issues responded to that suffering by killing themselves,  “It puts death on the table”, says news site Vox.

But these stories can also have a positive effect; they can cause employers concerned about the physical and mental health of their employees to evaluate their healthcare plans and determine if they’re doing enough.

Causes of Suicide

While the cause of suicide is not known, it most often occurs when the stresses of life exceed the coping abilities of someone already suffering from a mental health condition. In these cases, at these moments, stressors and health issues converge to create strong feelings of hopelessness and despair, something that seems impossible to overcome through any other method than death.

Most people who actively manage their mental health conditions go on to engage in life. Regrettably, it’s more common for those conditions to go untreated. Depression is the most common risk factor associated with suicide, and it’s often one that is undiagnosed or untreated. Other risk factors include anxiety, substance abuse, bipolar disorder and a family history of suicide.

Any of the conditions mentioned, especially when unaddressed, increase the risk for suicide.

The Cost of Suicide

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shares the latest statistics on suicide, and it’s not good news. Here are just a few of the startling facts:

  • Since 1999, suicide rates in the U.S. have risen nearly 30%.
  • Almost 45,000 Americans die each year by suicide – about 123 per day.
  • For every documented suicide, there are 25 suicide attempts.
  • Suicide costs the U.S. $69 billion annually in medical costs and work loss.

To make matters worse, since the stigma surrounding suicide leads to underreporting, the CDC estimates these numbers to be higher.

The Employer’s Role

Those employers who currently provide some sort of behavioral health counseling benefit – better yet, a comprehensive Employee Assistance Program (EAP) – are already going in the right direction. Same with school administrators providing a Student Assistant Program (SAP). Their employees (or students) have a place to go when they feel the need to seek help.

More comprehensive EAPs and SAPs, however, don’t stop at basic counseling. Some offer early suicide identification services and 24/7/365 intervention. Others conduct suicide prevention training activities on location or, in the aftermath of a suicide, critical incident trauma responses to help the rest of the community deal with their feelings.

Of course, many people in need don’t seek help. They’re worried about confidentiality, they fear their mental health conditions may jeopardize their employment or they believe “things will just work out.”

At Espyr®, we offer an industry-first Interactive Screening Program (ISP) that provides employees and students with a convenient, anonymous way to connect with a qualified counselor about available service options through their EAP – and address their concerns before they escalate. Here’s how it works:

  1. Employee/Student visits the anonymous ISP website
  2. Takes a brief stress and depression questionnaire
  3. Receives a personal response from an EAP counselor
  4. Exchanges messages with counselor – asks and learns about available services
  5. Gets feedback and encouragement
  6. Requests an appointment or referral

Offered in association with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, the program has been especially effective. As one participant put it, “I was finally able to let someone know how badly I was feeling without any judgement.”

If you’d like to learn more about how you can help your employees (or student population) deal with feelings of suicide – or any other behavioral health issue click here.

 

 

 

Health and Wellness: Revealing Trends In Benefits

The numbers don’t lie. The inclusion of new, innovative health and wellness offerings and initiatives as part of a company’s benefits package is increasing dramatically. In a survey by WorldatWork, the leading nonprofit professional association in compensation and total rewards, 900 respondents across the country described some of the ways companies in 2017 are taking better care of their employees than they were in 2016. In this article, we’ll take you through the most impactful changes.

Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) – Up 20%

According to the WorldatWork survey, 80% of the respondents’ companies offered an EAP in 2016. In 2017, that number went up to 96%. This should not come as a surprise. A comprehensive EAP program, implemented correctly, can improve employee retention, reduce absenteeism and help produce a happier, more productive workforce. Increasingly, employers and employees are recognizing the value – even as a recruiting tool. On their 2018 list of ten perks that attract and retain employees, BenefitsPro.com places EAPs just behind Snacks and Coffee, Flexible Work Schedules and Working from Home.

Behavioral Health Plans – Up 17%

Offered by 78% of the surveyed companies in 2016 and 91% in 2017, behavioral health plans and services are quickly becoming the norm. While engagement in these plans has been an issue historically, it’s important to have the resources in place for those who might need them. The other good news? More companies are making efforts to demystify these programs and remove the associated stigma. By making behavioral health part of a company’s culture and involving senior leadership, more and more employees are taking advantage of these services.

Another trend that will help: an increase in coaching vs. counseling. While the best coaches receive training and education comparable to counselors, the idea of coaching is something that is inherently more approachable.

Wellness Incentives – Up 18%

By providing rewards other than wellness itself, incentive programs can be very effective, and have increased in use from 56% in 2016 to 66% in 2017. Incentives could be anything from blue ribbons to free or subsidized health club memberships, often landing somewhere in the middle – cash, gift cards, event tickets and health insurance discounts.Fitness class

When combined with simple, short-term prizes, wellness incentives provide employees with enough motivation to get the wellness ball rolling until they begin to feel the internal benefits of a healthy lifestyle.

Outcomes-Based Wellness Programs – Up 33%

All wellness programs are, of course, outcomes-based in that they hope to achieve better health outcomes for as many employees as possible. Outcomes-based wellness programs, however, are simply incentive-based programs designed to achieve a certain outcome, like not smoking or losing weight.

According to WellSteps, an employee wellness solutions company, an outcomes-based wellness program will increase program participation and effectiveness. A combination of data feedback and healthy activities can encourage desired health behaviors while giving employees many different ways to qualify. If you treat people with respect and don’t force them to participate, WellSteps points out, your employees will love your wellness program and employee morale will get a big boost.

Health Coaching – Up 14%

As mentioned earlier, counseling can still carry a stigma that keeps some people with behavioral health issues from seeking help. Also, people may need advice, direction or just someone to talk to, and don’t have the need for formal counseling. This is where health coaching can help. With more of a positive connotation than counseling, more employees will seek the help they need.

And it’s working. According to the International Coaching Federation, 86% of companies who implement a coaching program feel the ROI was valuable.

Financial Wellness Services – Up 10%

In their 2017 survey on corporate health and well-being, Fidelity Investments® and the National Business Group on Health® revealed 84% of companies now offer financial wellness services, such as access to debt management tools or student loan counseling, an increase from 76% in 2016. As more employers recognize the impact of financial wellness on employee health, a growing percentage of companies are expanding their well-being programs to include employee financial security.$100 bill puzzle

As programs, services and offerings continue to evolve, employers are embracing a broader definition of well-being, one that leads to increased participation and engagement among their workforce – and greater productivity. “Today’s programs take more of a ‘health meets wealth’ approach,” said Adam Stavisky, senior vice president, Fidelity Benefits Consulting. “They reflect a blend of financial, physical and social/emotional programs to provide maximum support for members.”

If you’d like to learn how your company can catch up to the trends in wellness – and improve the happiness and productivity of your workforce – call Espyr at 888-570-3749 or click here.