Man reaching for alcoholic drink

It’s Always Five O’clock Somewhere

Even during the worldwide Coronavirus pandemic, its still 5 o’clock somewhere. After all, its been a long day of working from home, managing children, playing home-based teacher, caring for an elderly loved one- all the while feeling both cooped-up and socially isolated.  And uprooted from a normal routine.  That’s a lot of stress, right?  Why not kick back and enjoy a glass or two (or maybe three) of wine or some cold beers or a couple of mixed drinks?

COVID-19 And Home Use Alcohol Sales

Apparently, that is just what Americans have been doing in extraordinary numbers since the onset of the national emergency. Even while large producers of alcoholic beverages and craft brewers alike have seen their businesses flounder since March due to the closings of restaurants and bars, alcohol sales for home use have skyrocketed.  Home use alcohol sales increased especially fast early in the crisis when stocking up on economy sized cases of beer seemed as popular as America’s favorite pastime, hoarding toilet paper.  The sales curve leveled off some in April,  but was still higher that usual.  

Who can blame people for a little 5 o’clock celebration? Our lives are stressful enough in normal times, and life today is anything but normal, even as some states begin to re-open their economies.  Beer, wine and liquors all contain the legal drug alcohol. Alcohol like most psycho-active drugs is very reliable. It’s a type of drug called a depressant.  That means if you’re very tense, wound up and have a lot of stress hormones flowing through your body like cortisol and adrenaline, then alcohol’s effect almost always creates a feeling of relaxation and loosened inhibitions.  It’s a reliable friend in a crisis.  

Man reaching for alcoholic drink

Alcohol As A Stress Reliever

However, this reliability has a dark side, a pitfall for some.  Since stress is also a reliable daily part of our lives, alcohol can become our main stress-reliever leading to health problems like a weakened immune system and even to alcoholism.  Another consequence is that alcohol use, especially in amounts over one drink per day for women and two drinks per day for men, interferes with our cognition and our ability to make good decisions.  Add that aspect to its impairment of muscle coordination and it’s easy to understand why automobile drivers who have been drinking are literally accidents waiting to happen.

Furthermore, alcohol’s affect on decision-making can lead to increased risks of conflicts with the ones we love the most, and even to domestic violence. In fact, the NY Times recently reported on a surge of domestic violence worldwide associated with sheltering in place.  Even in “normal” times in the U.S. about one in four women and a smaller percentage of men experience intimate partner violence.

Alcohol has been a reliable friend of humankind for thousands of years.  Most people who drink do so safely and responsibly.  But in these unusual times, if you drink it might be a good opportunity to engage in a little introspection and examination of your drinking and its relationship to stress relief. 

If you would like to learn more about this topic there are many online resources available.  If you are concerned about your own or a loved one’s relationship with alcohol a good resource for confidential assistance is a tele-medicine consultation with your physician or healthcare provider or with your Employee or Student Assistance Program. 

Additional Resources

CDC Dietary Guidelines for Alcohol

https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/      Note to editor, edit the hyperlink to read: National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

National Coalition Against Domestic Violence   

Partnership Against Domestic Violence

National Institute of Mental Health

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.

 

With A Faltering Economy, Mental Health Services Are More Vital Than Ever

An undesirable consequence of the COVID-19 mitigation efforts has been the sudden and sharp plunge of a recently record setting, healthy economy.   At  least 46 states have shut down non-essential businesses in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus.  Those closures have sent an additional 22 million Americans to claim unemployment benefits and the numbers of unemployed continue to grow.    

According to a recent Gallup poll, 25% of workers say it’s likely they will lose their jobs or be laid off in the next 12 months.  That compares to only 8% who felt that way a year ago.  Those feelings of pending doom are even more dire for people of color.  32% of Americans of color felt it likely they would lose their jobs, compared to 21% a year ago.

 

Men looking for work in depression era unemployment line

 

It’s not hard to see why workers are stressed over their job prospects.  Many of the small businesses shut by government order will never reopen.  According to a survey from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, a quarter of small businesses are two months or less away from going out of business. 

Economic downturns and mental health are linked

Conventional wisdom has been that when economic downturns create high unemployment and declines in living standards, mental health issues increase. Suicides, binge drinking, depressive disorders, emotional and behavioral disturbances in children, as well as other indicators of the mental health of a society all become more pervasive. Furthermore, poorer mental health frequently equates to poorer overall health.

A recent meta-analysis of over 20,000 studies examining the association of economic factors on mental health supported these conclusions.  In this research, Frasquilho¹ et al found that economic downturns have a substantial impact on the prevalence of common mental issues, as well as more serious concerns such as suicidal behaviors and substance abuse. In turn, these issues impact business productivity, health care costs, crime, and violence.  The evidence was consistent that economic recessions and mediators such as unemployment, income decline, and unmanageable debts are significantly associated with poor mental wellbeing, increased rates of common mental disorders, substance-related disorders, and suicidal behaviors.

Effects on resiliency can be long lasting

It turns out that economic hardship is a robust predictor of mental health challenges. Financial insecurity creates lasting and negative effects on the capacity for resiliency during future hard times too, according to Steven Schlozman, MD, writing in The Clay Center for Young Healthy Minds.

“Depression is made worse by environmental factors, and depression makes the ability to tolerate adverse environmental factors more difficult,” Scholzman goes on to say. When things get rough, psychological suffering becomes one big nasty circle. You feel worse, you react poorly because of how badly you feel, and reacting badly makes everything around you function more poorly.”

Sadly but importantly, this research may be extremely relevant to our current situation.  These findings should act as a guide to public policy makers, benefit managers, and business leaders.  Their decisions can help marshal resources to support mental health at a time when such resources are needed more than ever.

About Espyr

Espyr has been helping employees achieve and maintain good health – so they can perform their best – for 30 years.  Clients in the most challenging occupations rely on Espyr’s industry leading Behavioral Health Coaching and Assistance Programs to maintain employee health and well being.  For more information contact Jeffrey Joo at 888-570-3479 or jjoo@espyr.com.

 

¹ BMC Public Health. 2016; 16: 115

Published online 2016 Feb 3. doi: 10.1186/s12889-016-2720-y

PMCID: PMC4741013

PMID: 26847554

Mental health outcomes in times of economic recession: a systematic literature review

Espyr Announces Help For Celadon Professional Drivers

The sudden bankruptcy of Celadon Group has thrown the lives of thousands of professional drivers into chaos.   To help those affected drivers, Espyr® has announced the establishment of a Celadon Driver Support Line. Espyr’s professional coaches and counselors will staff this line to provide emotional support, problem solving, resources and referrals to assist displaced Celadon drivers.  There is no cost to use this service.  The special hotline’s number is 888 ESPYR 11 (888 -377- 9711).

“Espyr is all about helping people maintain and improve their wellbeing, and we are deeply committed to the men and women of the transportation industry.  Celadon’s drivers have had their world abruptly turned upside down by their employer’s bankruptcy.  We hope this free service will provide valuable support and assistance to the professional drivers and their families affected by this crisis”, said Rick Taweel, President and CEO.

Espyr (www.espyr.com) is a national behavioral health company with a mission to help people and organizations reach their full potential. Espyr offers a continuum of behavioral health care from acute and chronic health conditions to leadership development, including Fit To Pass, a coaching program to assist professional drivers in maintaining good health and pass their DOT re-certification physical exams.

Workplace mental health issues

Celebrities Step Up To End The Stigma of Mental Health

In a recent National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) article, national director of strategic partnerships Katrina Gay told of her difficulties finding a celebrity to speak at a 2006 press event. She went through many weeks of attempts and rejection, finally securing Oscar and Emmy-winning actress Patty Duke. “Why are so many celebrities refusing to step forward,” Ms. Gay asked. “Because celebrities face the same stigma of mental health and discrimination anybody does,” answered Ms. Duke. “But I’ve been the president of the Screen Actors Guild and had a successful career,” she continued. “I can afford to take these risks.”

Fortunately, more celebrities are seeing the value in stepping forward and discussing their mental health issues. Not only are they not suffering the consequences their peers did years ago, they’re helping reduce the stigma of mental health for everyone.

Workplace mental health issues

These Athletes are Winners

As they are role models for so many young people, athletes are especially influential celebrities. And their teams are not just accepting mental health as an all-too-common illness, they are building treatment into everyday training and treatment regimens.

In the WNBA, for example, Liz Cambage of the Las Vegas Aces wrote an honest, detailed story for The Player’s Tribune outlining her struggles with anxiety and depression. In an age when social media commentary can be particularly cruel, most of the feedback on her story was supportive and full of praise.

An opinion piece in the Houston Chronicle outlined other athletes who have spoken honestly about their mental health struggles, including Kevin Love, DeMar DeRozan, Michael Phelps, Oscar De La Hoya and Terry Bradshaw. When these celebrities open up, it often turns into conversations that are mutually beneficial to players, coaches, management and fans, slowly tearing away the negative stigma often associated with mental health disorders.

Along with this shift in public opinion comes more treatment options. According to a report by Sam Amick of The Athletic, the NBA is amping up its mental health guidelines, providing players more access to mental health professionals, an action plan for mental health emergencies and ongoing discussions on how to handle these issues. The NFL just initiated their own mental health plan for the 2019-2020 season. MLB and MLS each have new mental health policies in place. And several WNBA teams provide access to mental health professionals.

Entertainers are Making a Difference, Too

Although actors, singers and musicians don’t have the support of a league, many entertainers have also come forward about their mental health struggles.

Kristen Bell, one of the stars of the series The Good Place, wrote an essay for Time’s Motto about the importance of being candid about her depression. “People in a similar situation need to realize they are not worthless,” Ms. Bell says, “and that they have something to offer.”

Pop sensation Miley Cyrus shared her story with ELLE. “I went through a time where I was really depressed,” she said. “Like, I locked myself in my room and my dad had to break my door down.” She has learned that every person can benefit from talking to somebody.

When Rolling Stone did a story on Bruce Springsteen, he shared that he was in treatment for many years from depression and thoughts of suicide. “After that article,” psychologist and author Deborah Serani recently told Forbes, “I had an influx of young men calling for psychotherapy. His disclosure helped. They thought, ‘if Springsteen was depressed and reached out for treatment, I can too.’”

Employers Can Also Be Mental Health Stars

For employers, mental health issues lead to reduced productivity and higher healthcare costs. So helping employees deal with their mental health issues is always a priority. Now, with celebrities breaking down the stigma of mental health, getting employees to step forward and seek help is getting a bit easier.

In an Espyr® article from last year, Removing the Stigma of Mental Health, we described some of the steps we’ve seen employers are taking that are further breaking down the stigma of mental health, as well as making it easier for employees to get treatment. Here are some highlights:

  1. Offer an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). 97% of large companies (over 5,000 employees), as well as an estimated 75-80% of mid sized and smaller companies have an EAP. It’s the most powerful weapon in your arsenal to combat mental health stigma and increase employee access to help. (Of course, not all EAPs are created equal. So-called “free” EAPs – those that come embedded in disability insurance products – are based on a model that only works if employee engagement is minimized, so they will be unlikely or unwilling to serve any meaningful role in generating employee engagement.)
  1. Create awareness and education programs. Critically important to the success of any program, your EAP should be very willing to help you build awareness and educate your employees, including:
  • Hosting lunch and learns in the workplace on behavioral health topics
  • Offering a monthly topical webinar for employers to use to educate their employees and normalize mental health issues
  • Providing educational newsletters
  1. Provide easy access to mental health services. Reduce as many barriers to treatment as possible. This could mean adding smartphone features, creating an easy-to-remember phone number or regularly reminding employees about available services.
  1. Create a culture of acceptance. For example, when speaking to employees about medical benefits, include mental health benefits and issues in the conversation, thereby normalizing mental health.
  1. Provide access to an interactive screening program. Allow employees to anonymously check for stress, depression and anxiety. Then, if they wish, they can dialogue with a behavioral health professional to understand their screening results.
  2. Develop a peer support program. Train employees to assist distressed employees and encourage them to access professional behavioral health services.
  3. Prioritize mental health treatment. Draft policies that permit employees to leave work to go to mental health or EAP appointments.

About Espyr

Espyr is a leader in mental health solutions, offering employers a variety of innovative products and services designed to maximize human and organizational potential. For more information on how Espyr can help your company provide for the mental health of your employees, call 888-570-3479 or click here.