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.

Systemic Discrimination and Health Disparities in U.S.

Recently many voices have joined the conversation about systemic discrimination in the US. One aspect is how minorities and disadvantaged groups in the U.S. have poorer access to healthcare and behavioral healthcare services and poorer health overall. A recent blog post pointed out the connection between systemic discrimination, chronic stress, and hypertension in Black Americans. It also noted that employers have more than a corporate citizenship responsibility. They have a real and growing business and financial stake in such matters. This is because in our American system – in these uncertain times – private employers largely bear the burden of the high and growing costs of providing decent healthcare insurance for employees. Not to mention the smaller and intentional investments they make in their Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), health coaching programs, and other lifestyle management services aimed at prevention and early intervention.

It’s widely known now that COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S. has been disproportionally impacting Black and Hispanic communities. These groups have highly disproportionate rates of COVID-19 infections compared to their percentage of the population. While there may be multiple reasons for this, one is the underlying health disparities.

Here are a few more facts that speak to health disparities related to systemic discrimination. Most have been recognized by scholars and researchers for many years, yet they persist.

  • About 14% of Black Americans report having fair or poor health compared to 8% of Whites.
  • 42% of Black Americans over age 20 have hypertension compared to 29% of Whites.

Disparities extend to behavioral healthcare as well.

  • Only 9% of Blacks received mental health services in a recent year compared to 19% of Whites. Yet mental health conditions affect everyone and have no racial preferences.

Disparities are not limited to Black Americans by any means. Similar facts abound for other minorities that regularly encounter discrimination. Asian Americans, Native Americans, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander Americans, and Hispanic Americans all have many health status indicators that are worse than Whites in America. For instance, suicide is highly associated with feeling of extreme hopelessness and is the second leading cause of death in young people. In 2017 the number of suicide attempts by adolescent Hispanic females was 40% higher than that of Non-Hispanic White females. Why might that be? Many of these groups have higher rates of obesity, diabetes, smoking, alcohol consumption, coronary disease, hypertension, cervical cancer, and other conditions than to Whites in America. Most also have poorer access to decent health insurance than do Whites, creating an enormous barrier to care. Poor cultural sensitivity by healthcare providers often creates another barrier when patients get to the moment of service.

I hope more employers join this conversation about systemic discrimination, social injustice, and resulting health disparities – and do more than talk or publish statements on their websites. Employers are made up of people. People can be advocates, and advocacy begins with action. Employers can advocate with insurers for patient-centric systems of care that provide and give access to optimum care delivered by culturally competent providers. They can advocate and lobby in the public realm for laws and policies that acknowledge systemic discrimination in American life, work to eliminate it, and diminish health disparities. Finally, employers can examine how minorities in their own workforces are accessing and being served by their EAPs and their other prevention and early intervention programs.

 

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

Health and Racial Disparities

Center for American Progress

https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/race/reports/2020/05/07/484742/health-disparities-race-ethnicity/

 

Overcoming Racial Disparities in U.S. Healthcare

HealthAffairs

https://www.healthaffairs.org/doi/full/10.1377/hlthaff.24.2.445

 

Health Equity Considerations and Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/health-equity/race-ethnicity.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fneed-extra-precautions%2Fracial-ethnic-minorities.html

 

CDC data: COVID-19 hit Hispanics, Blacks and those with underlying conditions harder

CNN

https://www.cnn.com/2020/06/20/politics/cdc-covid-charts-black-hispanic-underlying-conditions/index.html

 

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.

Discrimination, Elections, and One Mother’s Letter

Our national election is about two and a half months away, and a large turnout of voters is expected. There is much national attention, anxiety, and angst about how it can be safely and fairly conducted in a pandemic and without interference or obstruction. This election season is also taking place in the context of greater popular awareness of the corrosive effects of discrimination in our society, including what some say are modern-day voter suppression tactics aimed at some groups of citizens.

It occurred to me that those dynamics come together this week as we mark a historical landmark on August 18, 2020 – the 100th anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. That amendment made it illegal throughout the land to discriminate and deny voting rights based on gender. It had the immediate effect of giving the right to vote to millions of women. It culminated a one-hundred-year struggle – the women’s suffrage movement. In the end, it almost didn’t happen except for a mother’s letter to one young Tennessee lawmaker.

It’s hard for us to imagine, but for much of America’s history, women had no right to vote, could not own property or sign contracts, and had little legal standing in courts. Even after the 15th Amendment was adopted in 1870, which theoretically – though not in practice – gave Black men the right to vote. By 1918 several progressive, mostly western, states had granted women the right to vote. However, the franchise was not universal. Finally, by 1920 the women’s movement had the victory of universal suffrage in their grasp, or so they thought, through an amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The arcane process of amending the Constitution meant that legislatures in 36 of the then 48 states had to pass the Amendment. Thirty-five states had already passed it. The last to vote was Tennessee. Most Southern states had voted against the Amendment. The outlook was bleak. A ‘no’ vote from the conservative Tennessee legislature mean the Amendment would fail, making it unlikely that women would get voting rights for the foreseeable future.

The Tennessee legislature met in August 1920 in Nashville under great national scrutiny and lobbying to decide the issue. Erupting immediately were arguments, bribery, threats, and even fist fights among the assembled legislators, opponents, and supporters. Arguments against women voting seem curious to our 21st century minds but carried great weight in that era. Some legislators argued that voting would sully women’s elevated social role as pious, submissive wives and mothers. Others expounded on how women were fundamentally incapable of making serious decisions – like who should represent them in Legislatures, Congress, or the White House. Some said that women’s voting would lead to many undesirable outcomes for their highly patriarchal society. Consequences like women working outside the home, managing their finances, or accessing higher education to become something other than a nurse, teacher, or social worker. One argument took the physiological route saying it was a well-known medical fact that at a certain time of each month, women did not act rationally and could not be trusted. Furthermore, that giving them the vote would be reckless and create national chaos.

When the momentous day of the final Legislative vote came, polling showed there would be a tie, and the Amendment would not pass. That day, 23-year-old Representative Harry T. Burn, who had vowed to vote against the Amendment, received a fateful letter from his mother back in McMinn County in East Tennessee. She encouraged him once more to vote for the Amendment. Later, Burns explained that he realized on that day there was a great inequity that he could reverse. That his educated mother, who helped manage their business and was engaged and conversant with the public issues of the day, could not vote. However, her uneducated and ignorant male farm hand could. To the shock of all observers, when his turn came, Representative Burns voted for passage, and the 19th Amendment was ratified. Sixty-four years later, Mississippi became the last state to ratify the Amendment. Of course, the struggle to vote in America continued long beyond 1920 for women of color and many others. But on Nov 2, 1920, eight million American women voted in an election for the first time. Possibly due to one mother’s letter to her son.

 

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.

 

Source

The Nineteenth Amendment, 1920

History.Com

https://www.history.com/topics/womens-history/19th-amendment-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 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.

The Anniversary Effect

Anniversary is a term usually applied to happy, positive events like wedding anniversaries or employment anniversaries. It can have a different connotation for people who survive traumatic events.

This week is the one-year anniversary of the mass shooting that took place on Aug 3, 2019 at an El Paso, Texas Walmart. The shooting claimed its 23rd life in April 2020 when Guillermo Garcia died from wounds received last August. He was shot that day in the parking lot while raising funds for his daughter’s soccer team. The mass killing shocked El Paso. It’s a border city with one of America’s lowest crime rates. One that prides itself on its friendliness, diversity, community cohesion, and civility. The 21-year-old shooter confessed to posting a racist rant, then driving 600 hundred miles to kill “Mexicans.”  Using a military style assault rifle, he fired indiscriminately into the crowed parking lot and store. Law enforcement first responders were on the scene within six minutes of being called but not in time to save 23 lives and 23 more who were wounded. 14 of the 23 killed were Americans. Victims ranged from a toddler age two, to an 80-year-old. Followed that same day by another mass shooting in Ohio, this was the deadliest anti-Latino terrorist act in U.S. history. It gave rise to a feeling of unsafety among many Hispanic Americans who realized they can be singled out for killing simply due to their ethnicity.

Shortly after the shooting, Espyr provided numerous critical incident debriefing services to groups of first responders. Mental health professionals who conducted these services educated those affected about normal reactions to extraordinary events and about accessing their inherent psychological and social supports, as well as their resiliency skills. They also provided tips about coping and provided information about how to access supportive resources such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs).  They screened for and assisted those who were severely or atypically affected by the trauma – sometimes because of pre-existing personal stresses or situations or by underlying mental health conditions.

This week, the one-year anniversary of the tragedy, Espyr will also be conducting debriefings to support first responders’ wellbeing. This is because of the Anniversary Effect or Anniversary Reaction. It is the phenomenon that can affect those impacted by a traumatic event near the anniversary of that incident. It involves a unique set of disturbing memories, thoughts, feelings, and physical reactions that can occur on or near the anniversary date.

Most workplaces do not experience mass killings like the El Paso Walmart shooting on Aug 3, 2019. But other traumatic events that don’t garner national attention are very common in the workplace: the sudden death of a co-worker, a robbery, an act of workplace violence, the impact of a natural disaster, or a workplace accident. They can affect many employees, or just a few. They can be disruptive for employers’ operations, but more importantly they can affect the wellbeing and productivity of employees. Especially those who in the best of times are doing their best to cope with some type of private distress. Such as family conflicts, marital or relationship turmoil, health issues, financial strains, caring for a special needs child or an elderly loved one, are in recovery from substance abuse, or are managing a mood or anxiety condition. So, if your workplace has experienced a traumatic event in the past, any kind of traumatic event, keep the Anniversary Effect in mind. Then check-in with your affected team members. If needed, consult with your EAP or behavioral health advisor about how to best check-in or about a plan of action. Add this to your repertoire of tools to support your employees’ wellbeing.

 

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

El Paso Walmart Shooting Victim Dies, raising death toll to 23

NBC News

https://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/el-paso-walmart-shooting-victim-dies-death-toll-now-23-n1193016

The Anniversary Effect

Psychology Today

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/two-takes-depression/201105/the-anniversary-effect

 

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.

Access open? ADA is 30 years old.

Last week, I called attention to how society’s systemic discrimination against people of color creates a level of chronic stress that has been shown to be a cause of hypertension in black Americans.  Hypertension kills 1,300 Americans of all races and ethnicities every day. This should be a concern to employers given they bear the bulk of the costs to ensure American workers, and directly bear the costs of lost workdays, recruitment, and replacement. This week it’s hard to not notice another aspect of discrimination that is also very relevant to employers.

Civil rights icon, Rep. John Lewis of Atlanta who died recently, is being remembered and honored in Alabama, Washington, and here in Georgia. Leading a large group of peaceful civil rights demonstrators, Lewis’ bloody beating on national television by Alabama state troopers on the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, Alabama on March 7, 1965 shocked the nation. Known as “Bloody Sunday,” it led to the passage of the Voting Rights Act later that year. Though that law has since been weakened by a 2013 Supreme Court decision, it was an important first step in the effort to end systematic suppression of black voters in the US.

I’m mindful that Rep. Lewis once said, “When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something. You have to do something.” Twenty-five years after the passage of the Voter Rights Act, America did something about discrimination against another group of citizens – those with physical, cognitive, and learning challenges. Thirty years ago, on July 26, 1990 President George H.W. Bush signed into law the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA). It prohibited discrimination against less abled people in areas of Employment, Education, Healthcare, Transportation, Recreation, and Housing. Historically American society had viewed such disabilities as individual and personal issues. That attitude was effectively a “shelter-in-place order.” One that excluded millions of adults and children from participation in society and from achieving their potential.  Today, about 1 in 4 Americans have some type of disabling condition and over 9 million children have special needs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), people with disabilities continue to face health disparities. Adults with disabilities are three times more likely to have heart disease, stroke, diabetes, or cancer than are other Americans.

The ADA created inclusion for millions of adults and children. Then came 2020 and the Coronavirus Pandemic. When unemployment skyrocketed, those employed through the opportunities created by the ADA suffered the most according to Bureau of Labor Statistics. They were often the “last hired, first fired” and this seems to be the case in the current recession. This is very concerning to this community and their advocates. However, there is a silver lining to this cloud. Employers have seen how effective working from home can be. They are learning that remote work can in many cases make their businesses more successful and their workforce even more engaged. Ironically, many of the aspects of working from home were the very same accommodations advocated for decades by the community of Americans with physical, cognitive, or learning challenges. While many obstacles remain for disabled Americans, employers can help by being intentional and thoughtful about lessons learned from the Coronavirus Pandemic as they pertain to opportunities for all workers.

 

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 the author of four books on behavioral health topics. 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. Department of Health and Human Services.  https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/adolescent-development/physical-health-and-nutrition/chronic-conditions-and-disabilities/trends.html#:~:text=The%20National%20Survey%20of%20Children,16%2D20%20have%20a%20disability.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2020/p0724-30th-anniversary-disabilities-act.html

https://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p0816-disability.html

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

https://www.bls.gov/home.htm

Atlanta Journal Constitution

https://www.ajc.com/news/nation-world/disabled-americans-mark-milestone-as-crisis-deepens-job-woes/RIO26WROQBCLDAQCFI65CP6MXQ/

 

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.

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.