Archive for the ‘Mental Health’ Category

Service of Collateral Damage: Who Picks Up the Pieces?

Monday, May 11th, 2020

We are all collateral damage to this virus, some more than others.

For starters restaurants, airlines, retail and small businesses of all kinds, museums, theaters, consequent furloughed/fired employees and retired citizens living on savings all suffer. In addition to and as a result the country’s mental health has taken a terrible blow. Heading the list: substance abuse; domestic violence, alcoholism and suicide. The headline from a Well Being Trust & The Robert Graham Center Analysis: “The COVID Pandemic Could Lead to 75,000 Additional Deaths from Alcohol and Drug Misuse and Suicide.” People are understandably desperate.

Heather Long and Andrew Van Dam at The Washington Post reported last Friday that April job loss at 20.5 million with unemployment rate at 14.7 percent is “the worst since the Depression era.”

Policymakers have to make Russian Roulette-like decisions, the most difficult of their careers: Life loss over jobs? Jobs over potential sickness and death? The data on which to make decisions and forecasts of where this unpredictable tornado-like virus will go is mercurial: Every week we learn of new twists and turns as experts struggle to recognize symptoms and cobble together remedies. And too many interpretations appear to be political which doesn’t feel right in a crisis.

Between the squabbling and posturing I’m not sure who is leading the charge which is troubling. The president tossed the ball to the governors. CDC standards to determine when it’s wise to reopen businesses are followed by some but not all governors and nothing is done to enforce them.

Some governors on the east coast are coordinating the acquisition of personal protective equipment so they don’t compete and achieve the best prices but that seems to be it. They are not in sync when it comes to opening beaches, businesses and restaurants which Governor Cuomo has previously said is essential due to their proximity and the fluidity of citizens armed with cars.

  • Connecticut expects its restaurants to welcome patrons–with restrictions–on May 20. Whether town beaches are open depends on each mayor according to ctpost.com. For example Greenwich beaches are open to residents and Norwalk’s on a “case-by-case basis.”
  • New Jersey’s sun lovers will visit its beaches Memorial weekend.
  • NY State parks and beaches are closed at least until May 31 according to a NYS parks website. In order for a region to open under Pause New York, which expires May 15, it must meet CDC criteria: “a 14-day decline in hospitalizations and deaths on a 3-day rolling average. Regions with few COVID cases cannot exceed 15 new total cases or 5 new deaths on a 3-day rolling average. A region must have fewer than two new COVID patients admitted per 100,000 residents per day.” The NY State website spells out the priorities regarding business openings. In Phase I: construction, manufacturing & wholesale supply chain, select retail using curbside pickup only, agriculture, fishing. Only in Phase III do we see restaurants and food service that many other states have long opened. A crucial component: A region must keep an eye on data and be able to pull back and shut down again if the numbers of Covid-19 cases increase.

Do you feel secure that your state is interpreting the criteria for raising the gates to reestablish the economy while protecting workers, citizens–and you?  With the exception of NY Governor Cuomo, who has said time and again “hold me accountable; blame me,” the handling of this pandemic is like watching a child’s game of hot potato where some leaders don’t want to be holding the spud when the music stops. Who has a handle on the true full picture? How will the federal purse control/disperse life and worker-saving funds when regional criteria differ so drastically? Will exacerbated mental health issues be given their proper due by government and insurance companies?  And most important, who will ultimately determine which comes first–the economy or risk of death?

 

Cats sheltering in place in a neighborhood pizza parlor, hungry for company.

 

Service of Meditation That Makes Me Nervous

Thursday, June 21st, 2018

Photo: careerbuilder.com

Of all the people I know I could probably most benefit from daily periods of meditation to calm down. But Ellen Gamerman’s Wall Street Journal article, “Competitive About Meditation? Relax, Everyone Else Is Too,” made me nervous.

Gamerman wrote “Type-A people are descending on the ancient practice of meditation and tweaking the quest for inner peace to suit their hard-charging needs—racking up streaks and broadcasting their running tallies to the world. The result, for some: Meditation has never been more stressful.”

Photo: medium.com

There are apps, like Headspace and Calm that keep track of the straight number of days subscribers meditate—or practice mindfulness–and subscribers compete. “Headspace and Calm report roughly 30 million and 26 million downloads of their apps, respectively.” Gemerman explains “Meditation, which can mean different things to different people, is a more focused state than mindfulness, which is a state of calm attention to the present.”

Members of online groups such as Mindful Makers can post daily and others can compare streak rankings. They live around the world. Another, Beeminder, tracks goals. Subscribers are fined if they don’t meditate. One paid $810 because he didn’t practice mindfulness an hour a day for a period of time.

“Streaks are big business for Headspace and Calm, which sell access to audio-guided meditations and other features for $12.99 a month, or less depending on the package. But pursuit of a streak has its risks: Customers can become discouraged if their runs end abruptly and might ditch the app or stop meditating altogether. Even a completed streak can potentially diminish enthusiasm: The only thing harder than the 365th straight day of meditation, some say, is the 366th.”

Photo: engadget.com

To change behavior, people buy devices, like wristbands, that feel like a bee sting when they shock. Pavlok sells them for from $145- $245 [photo left].​

I admire successful entrepreneurs and tip my cap to those who identified and addressed a need for people to quantify their calm times and pay for gadgets to nudge or sting them to meditate or otherwise change their behavior. Much of this counting and prodding seems counterintuitive, adding more to busy schedules and raising adrenalin to win, which makes sales victory in this space even more intriguing. However, it doesn’t inspire me to meditate—and you? What techniques do you use to calm down?

Photo: finerminds.com

Service of Medical Impact When Loneliness is not Solitude

Thursday, September 21st, 2017

Photo: npr.org

There are plenty of self-help books with titles like “Married…But Lonely.” And loneliness doesn’t just happen to the elderly, although seniors over 80 represent the largest percentage for understandable reasons: Lost hearing, sight, mobility, family and friends and many are isolated because they lack funds to socialize.

I didn’t realize the crucial impact of loneliness made clear in the lead to Emily Holland’s Wall Street Journal article: “Loneliness is hazardous to your health—and more psychologists and doctors are calling for a public-health campaign to fight it.”

In the article, “The Government’s Role in Combating Loneliness –Medical experts say social isolation needs to be seen as a public-health issue,” Holland quotes Brigham Young University professor Julianne Holt-Lundstad: “cumulative data over hundreds of studies with millions of participants provides robust evidence of the importance of social connections for physical health and risk for premature mortality.”

Photo: womansday.com

Studies have shown that “the risk is equal to or greater than major health problems such as obesity.” Dr. Holt-Lundstad presented analyses of data from multiple studies at this summer’s American Psychological Association convention that “found that having greater social connections is associated with a 50% reduced risk of premature death.”

Photo: pinterest.com

According to Holland, an AARP study estimated 44 million adults 45 and up experience chronic loneliness. “In the survey, 35% of respondents said they were chronically lonely, up from 20% in a similar survey a decade ago.” Why? “An increase in single-person households, higher divorce rates and too much focus on social media over in-person communication,” may be some reasons.

Holland reported that loneliness doesn’t get the attention of smoking or obesity but that it is beginning to, noting the AARP public education initiative Connect2Affect. In addition, she mentioned a toll free number seniors can call to get rides via Uber and Lyft in some areas; a 24 hour, free Friendship Line–800-971-0016–sponsored by the Institute on Aging for those 60+ who feel lonely, depressed–even suicidal and programs at some senior living facilities that encourage socializing between generations.

Early detection and encouraging people to seek help are key to turning around the situation. Physicians must learn to question patients and patients must feel comfortable admitting their feelings of involuntary isolation and seclusion.

What is the difference between loneliness and solitude? Do you know people who are surrounded by humans and yet they feel lonely or others who prefer to be alone and say they are happiest that way? Have you heard of effective ways that infirm or financially strapped people of any age can remain involved?

Photo: mysocialstate.com

Service of Time Off to Reflect and Refresh

Thursday, July 27th, 2017

Photo: halliecrawford.com

I have a hard time sitting still if I’m not at my computer. There’s always something that I feel should be done. This pressure runs in the family. I relax fully when I’m away from office or home and when I return from a break I lower the decibels of activity for a bit and feel refreshed. Surprise: The world hasn’t fallen apart.

This is why I was drawn to these two wise perspectives to taking time off. I think that the same advice applies if you’re the boss, if you’re looking for a job, if you’re a stay-at-home parent, if you’re retired—to everyone.

Father James Martin. Photo: en.wikipedia.org

“My novice director used to always say ‘You’re not a human doing, Jim. You’re a human being.’ Do you always need to be doing? Producing? Can you find time to rest, to be silent and to pray? Can you be a human being?” I read Father James Martin’s comment in a Facebook posting. A man who juggles multiple projects, he had taken off a few days after a hectic book tour. Among many other things, Father Martin is the author of “Jesus: A Pilgrimage;” “The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything;” “My Life with the Saints,” and “Building a Bridge” and editor-at-large of the Jesuit magazine America.

Judy Schuster sent me an article about a tweet heard ‘round the world—well, if not that far, almost. When Stephanie M. Bucklin covered the story on Today a while back, it had already received over 10 thousand retweets.

The subject: Taking a day off for your mental health and admitting it. Bucklin quoted the web developer whose boss, on seeing her honest note to her team, praised her for admitting the real reason she wouldn’t be at the office. The tweet: “When the CEO responds to your out of office email about taking sick leave for mental health and reaffirms your decision.100.”

Not everyone has a boss like this, wrote the Today contributor, so if you feel burned out, what to do? For ideas she interviewed Ken Yeager, the director of the stress, trauma and resilience program at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center. He says that on weekends you’re not recharging your batteries, you’re filling time, by “binging on Netflix or watching HGTV marathons.”

Photo: whattoexpect.com

He suggests “getting outside, visiting friends or cooking with your family members. Things like taking your kids to the zoo, seeing a show or concert or even just fixing that leaky faucet give you more energy back, too.”If “you still feel like you’re in a rut at work” he recommends you suggest to your boss “moving projects around, switching up tasks among team members and figuring out other ways for you to move, grow and do new things.”

Yeager’s other ideas: Attend a workshop, an industry conference, eat out, and choose a different road to work, “switch up your routine and re-energize you.”

Have you admitted to taking off a mental health day? Have you left work early to catch a baseball game, matinee or to shop? What techniques do you use to short-circuit ruts and to restore your energy and creativity if you can’t disappear for a day or two to dust off your mental health?

Photo: bryanuniversity.edu

Service of Quick and Easy Solutions for Depression: Intrusive Much?

Monday, July 25th, 2016

Photo: pano.com

Photo: pano.com

I appreciate companies that tackle a challenge in resourceful, efficient ways, but not at risk to safety, privacy and efficacy. According to Rachel Emma Silverman, “Companies are waking up to the costs of untreated mental illnesses like depression, which is linked to $44 billion a year in lost workplace productivity, according to the University of Michigan Depression Center. The center cites data suggesting that workers suffering from depression cost companies 27 lost work days a year.”

Her Wall Street Journal article “Tackling Workers’ Mental Health, One Text at a Time–Employers are turning to counseling services that can be accessed on smartphones,” inspired questions. We’re not talking about tips to treat a paper cut here. Plus, to receive what resembles a mental Band-aid an employee must be willing to give up privacy.

StressEmployee assistance programs [EAPs], where staff has access to free counseling on the phone, don’t seem to work, she reported. In contrast, Silverman wrote: “Some apps mine data about employees’ phone usage, or medical and pharmaceutical claims, to determine who might be in need of care. Others allow workers to text and video chat with therapists—in what are being called ‘telemental’ health services.”

The apps also collect data—telling employers how many look for help for stress, anxiety or depression–but according to Silverman, an employer doesn’t learn anything about individuals. However some in the industry worry that a lost or hacked phone puts an employee’s privacy at risk and others, who are happy to see something is being done, point out that the security of the privacy is unproven.

AnxietyAccording to Silverman, one app, Ginger.io, “alerts a health coach when a user hasn’t texted in a while or hasn’t left the house, potential signals of increased stress or anxiety.” She continued, it “gathers phone-activity data with users’ permission; the app does not monitor the content of messages or a phone’s specific location.” The human resources director at a company that offers both EAPs and mobile apps reports about the latter. It “feels like a more immediate solution for folks, because they are always on their phones anyway.”

Another corporation expects an ROI of over $2 million this year. Last year it spent $11.5 million on “behavioral health treatments” for its US employees wrote Silverman. It has signed them up at Castlight Health Inc. that “computes users’ health and pharmaceutical claims, as well as their search history within the app, to identify who might be at risk for a mental health condition and direct them to appropriate care.” Silverman described that the smartphone screen of staffers with something like chronic pain– associated with depression and anxiety–might be “Feeling overwhelmed?” A click leads to a list of questions about mood, treatment suggestions and an online therapy program.

Mental health mavens add, “While treatment by text is convenient, some users may still need to supplement it with in-office visits to a therapist.”

I’m all for mobile apps that share weather, sports scores, the shortest driving distance between here and there, movie reviews and the time to expect the next First Avenue bus and I don’t care if the world knows I’ve accessed them. With technology as fine tuned as it is, I can’t believe that the employer won’t know if someone seeks out help which might prevent them from getting a promotion.

  • And if an app determines someone has stayed at home for two days, might the reason not be the flu or a sick child–rather than an indication that you are paralyzed by depression?
  • Haven’t you researched a disease or condition a friend or relative mentions? How would the app know it’s not about you?
  • Are corporations blaming stress and anxiety on staff, who must be cured, instead of fixing the management style, unrealistic expectations or work conditions that may have caused much of the employee anxiety and blues in such numbers?
Photo: tinybuddah.com

Photo: tinybuddah.com

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