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Behavioral Health Q & A Column – April 2020

By: Lisa Desai, MindWise Innovations
April 16, 2020 

Welcome to the newest edition of the Behavioral Health Q&A Column! VPPPA has partnered with experts at MindWise Innovations to present a monthly Q&A article addressing questions that members might be hesitant to ask about. These columns will address your questions about mental health, substance abuse, brain injuries, family issues and more. We will be posting a new column on the third Thursday of each month. To submit your own question for the experts click here. How should businesses communicate the importance of mental health to their employees during the COVID-19 crisis?
The way we think about and understand behavioral health (which includes both mental health and substance misuse) needs to change if we are going to make it easier to talk about mental health and simultaneously chip away at stigma. Stigma is what most often gets in the way of communicating, understanding, and help-seeking – as it means we have a negative association with a certain idea and many people feel they will be judged or treated differently/poorly if they talk about their mental health struggles.
The good news is that the first step to reducing stigma and providing support is to start the conversation about what mental health and substance misuse looks like, how to talk about it, and what can help. Especially because mental health is a part of overall health.
The best way for businesses to start communicating the importance of mental health to employees is purely to start – as socializing more behavioral health conversations will help. Employers have a unique opportunity to make a positive impact and improve the mental health of employees.  Most working adults spend more time working than any other activity apart from sleeping and research shows that when employers initiate and support treatment for mental health disorders and prescription drug addiction, it’s more effective in the long term than at the urging of family or friends.
Another way to support the mental health of your employees’ at this time (and long-term) is to communicate about any health benefits you offer, for example can teams take advantage of your EAP (Employee Assistance Program) which generally provides 4-5 free counseling sessions. Most insurances cover therapy and, during this pandemic, many are also providing coverage for teletherapy (the number of sessions covered may vary). 
And lastly, I’d recommend making sure employees know what hotlines and crisis text lines are available to them in case they can’t reach out to a professional:

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: Call 1-800-237-TALK (8255)
Crisis Text Line: Text ‘ACT’ to 741741 for free, 24/7 support.
SAMHSA (Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration)

During these times of COVID19 we are truly in this together; no one is immune from the worry and stress.  Let’s hope that we can start feeling better, and less judged, for reaching out for help because we can all identify with the way the health crisis can feel overwhelming at time.

For those of us trying to support someone struggling during social distancing, can FaceTime and video conferencing be just as effective as in-person interactions?
The short answer to this is yes. FaceTime, video conferences, and other kinds of virtual support can have the same impact as an in-person interaction. The important thing to remember is that you’re still offering support, which can truly make a difference to someone in need. Also, with all this technology, it’s easy to forget the comfort of a phone call. In fact, some people much prefer phone calls to video calls, and that works just as well!
Many people are finding themselves in virtual care-giving situations during this health crisis. We know that under the best of circumstances care-giving can be emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting. So, now more than ever it is important to be gentle with oneself as well as with others.  We can often be more forgiving and empathic toward others than we are to ourselves; remember that you deserve that care too.  Take moments to breathe, walk, read or watch something funny, or reach out to a friend or family member.

What are some basic coping strategies that you recommend?
Absolutely, everybody copes with stress and uncertainty differently. One strategy that we’ve seen be profoundly helpful to individuals, parents, and even children is a framework of coping used by our trauma experts at Riverside Community Care – Safety, Predictability, and Control.
The concept provides guidelines for coping during times of acute or prolonged crises and trauma, which is exactly what’s happening during this global pandemic. Below are a few tip sheets that incorporate these strategies into simple coping strategies.

I hope these are helpful, as it is unfortunately often easy to fall into unhealthy or even damaging coping habits during stressful times. In next month’s blog, we will address myths regarding substance misuse and discuss ways to protect recovery from alcohol and substance misuse.
About the author: 
Lisa Desai is a licensed psychologist and behavioral health professional with 20 years of clinical, management, and consulting experience. Through her work at MindWise Innovations, she helps companies prioritize effective and sustainable behavioral health strategies through the business development, design and implementation, and evaluation of mental health and substance misuse programs. Lisa lives in the Boston area with her husband, two daughters, and beloved black lab. She is of South Asian descent, speaks Gujarati, and enjoys all things social.