What Your Patients are Hearing

Achieving recovery not a one-size-fits-all proposition


The experience of recovering from addiction can look different in different people, according to a Washington Post article. Some patients hit “rock bottom” and are able to climb back after connecting with a therapist. Others maintain sobriety by working with sponsors through 12-step programs. Still others are able to attain sobriety and maintain it by carefully vetting social invitations and bypassing situations in which drugs or lots of alcohol are involved. Medications that manage cravings are another intervention used by some of the 22 million Americans reportedly in recovery from drugs and alcohol. A major milestone for those seeking recovery is reaching the 3- to 5-year mark, said Robert D. Ashford, MSW, of the Substance Use Disorders Institute at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia. “That benchmark can signal a reduced risk of returning to substance use because the person with addiction has had the time to develop effective coping skills, social connections, and a renewed sense of self.” The Washington Post.

University life can be rewarding, but stress is a reality – and for some, that stress can either exacerbate or trigger mental health challenges. More universities have recognized the mental toll that campus life can exact and have put supports in place. At the University of California, Los Angeles, Internet-based screenings and online mental health treatment are offered with one-on-one personal contact with “resilience peers.” The latter are not licensed counselors, but they are trained to listen and provide an outlet for stressed students. The online help teaches skills that are useful in combating anxiety and depression. The goal is to help as many students as fast as possible. “This program fundamentally changed who I am and how I approach my life,” said UCLA student Nivi Ahlawat. “I may not remember the structures of all the intermediates of the glycolysis pathway I learned in biochemistry class. But I’ll remember what I’ve learned about active listening, motivational interviewing, and mindfulness intervention for the rest of my life.” Meanwhile, Kent (Ohio) State University has provided mental health training to more than 700 students, faculty, and staff. And at Jefferson Community College in Watertown, N.Y., mental health help includes a “wraparound” model that provides aid to economically disadvantaged students whose stress includes putting food on the table for their children. The New York Times.

Sen. Richard Briggs, MD, has proposed a resolution that seeks to loosen the purses of insurance companies in Tennessee, with the aim of better coverage for those with mental health or substance use issues who are seeking treatment. In introducing the resolution, Dr. Briggs noted that, despite the opioid crisis in his state, there is an “undeniable difference in coverage for mental health and substance abuse services for Tennesseans suffering from substance use disorder or opioid use disorder,” compared with the way other traditional diseases are covered and insured. “Mental illness is an illness just like any other medical illness, and should be treated and reimbursed to physicians in the same manner,” said Dr. Briggs, a heart and lung surgeon who served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan. NewsChannel 5 in Nashville.

“When I tell you I moved down to Miami for the weather, I really mean I moved to South Florida to escape my depression,” wrote Minhae Shim Roth. But for some, other factors get in the way. “The problem is that the heat and humidity can be so oppressive that people are forced indoors, negating the positive benefits of the sunshine,” said Daniel E. Jimenez, PhD, an assistant professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at the University of Miami. Last year, more than 560,000 Floridians – or 3.5% of the state’s adults – reportedly contemplated suicide, statistics show. Those stats are comparable with those of New York state. One difference, however, is that people in Miami are less willing to talk about mental health challenges, Ms. Roth suggested. “It’s easy to believe living in the Magic City is like a booze-, drug-, and fun-filled party that never stops. This pervasive hedonistic reputation makes it unpopular and shameful to admit you’re depressed. Everyone’s having fun, so why aren’t you?” Ms. Roth wrote. Those who seek help face an understaffed and underfunded system where an appointment with a psychiatrist can take months to secure. Help needs to come in other forms, according to Ms. Roth, and include “compassion and empathy, public initiatives aimed at combating the stigma of mental illness, greater accessibility to mental health services, and readily available intervention tools.” Miami New Times.

Seven in 10 U.S. teens see anxiety and depression as major problems among their peers. The concerns cut across gender, racial and socioeconomic lines, according to a survey of 920 teens aged 13-17 years. The major reason for the anxiety and depression is school, with 61% of the respondents feeling pressure to excel academically. Girls were far more likely than boys to say they planned to attend a 4-year college (68% vs. 51%). About half of the teens surveyed viewed drug addiction and alcohol consumption as major problems among people their age. Pew Research Center.

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