Mental Health & Addiction Care

How to Reduce Stress with Gratitude

Posted on Nov 24, 2020 in Mental Health & Addiction Care, Scroll Images

A blog by Marianne Svendsen, LMFT with Sutter Health’s Employee Assistance Program

You may be feeling exhausted or burned out due to the impacts of COVID-19, the climate of social unrest, wildfires, the elections and upcoming holidays. These stressors may also cause you to feel sad or worried. Taken one by one, these events are almost unbearable but taken all together; it can feel very overwhelming.

The world may seem unsteady now, but we can steady ourselves by focusing on things for which we are grateful. If your coping skills have worn down, identifying what you’re thankful for can boost your well-being and strengthen your endurance during this stressful time.

Please take a minute to stop and reflect on what’s in front and available to us and appreciate it. This single moment can have a drastic impact on our well-being. There is evidence to suggest that there are psychological and physical health-related benefits when we practice gratitude. Benefits include improved sleep, increased energy levels and a strengthened immune system to ward off illness.

Pause to notice the beauty in small details. The sound of the birds that are chirping outside your window, the swirl of colors in the eyes of the one you love, the smell of pumpkin as you bake or the warmth of a blanket that a friend gave to you, these can help you cope with stress. You can spend one minute each morning and each evening to do this. You can also do this during other parts of your day, such as, while you wash your hands, in between commercials, while you’re on hold during a phone call or waiting for a video conference to begin.

If you have difficulty identifying something you are grateful for, here are some questions to help spur reflection and find gratitude:

  • What are some ways you’ve changed for the better?
  • What are the moments in your life that taught you big life lessons?
  • What miracles have you witnessed or experienced?
  • What are all the things you can do with your eyes closed?
  • What things make you laugh?
  • What are the reasons you are amazing?
  • What are the things that you cannot live without?
  • What significant issues have you survived in your life?
  • What is the kindest thing anyone has ever done for you?
  • What nice things have you done for someone?

For immediate assistance, please call the the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Prioritizing health equity means keeping telehealth for mental health and addiction care

Posted on Nov 16, 2020 in Mental Health & Addiction Care, Scroll Images

John Boyd, PsyD, CEO for Mental Health & Addiction Care at Sutter Health

At Sutter Health, we see tremendous value in viewing mental health and addiction care through a “human health” lens for many reasons, including the fact that they are so intertwined with our experiences as human beings. Never has this been truer than now, as COVID-19 has caused massive disruption to our daily lives, leading to heightened anxiety, loneliness and uncertainty. Building meaningful relationships with the people who seek our care can provide a consistent, strong foundation for recovery. In 2020, safely achieving this much-needed sense of continuity and stability meant rapidly scaling up our telehealth service offerings across our network.

John Boyd, PsyD, CEO for Mental
Health & Addiction Care at Sutter Health

For many years, my healthcare colleagues and I have viewed telehealth as a potentially revolutionary way to remove barriers to access for more of the population, particularly in rural areas that face geographic isolation and provider shortages. Telehealth offers a range of benefits for these traditionally underserved communities, and at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became clear that it would be a critical component of our response.

Thanks to the decisive action of federal and state regulators, telehealth guidelines were eased, the state of California required reimbursement, and insurance providers revised reimbursement procedures to cover these vital video visits.

All of these changes enabled our integrated network to rapidly scale our telehealth services to meet our communities’ medical and behavioral healthcare needs. The numbers are powerful—a clear signal that we should make permanent the regulatory changes and flexibility granted during this unprecedented time.

We’ve seen this significant expansion of services in the past seven months (March through October, 2020):

● 90% of outpatient behavioral health visits shifted to virtual care

● More than 30,000 patients referred to Quartet, our partner for in-person, telepsychiatry and digital-care services

● Achieved a decrease in no-show rates for both established and new patients, thanks to new patient referrals via video: at 5%, which is down from 15-25%

● 4,440 telepsychiatry consults completed across 16 Sutter emergency departments and hospitals (In fact, 10,900 patients have benefited from telepsychiatry in 16 hospital emergency departments since the launch of this service in 2017.)

Regulatory changes made at the beginning of the pandemic are directly allowing us to better serve patients, and it’s worth noting which specific populations are benefitting. Even before stay-at-home orders began, people living in rural communities faced challenges in being able to consistently make in-person appointments due to factors like limited transportation, finding childcare and taking time off work. Prior to the pandemic, Medicare also required that a patient’s very first visit with a mental health provider be in-person to qualify for reimbursement. Thanks to the flexibility granted this year, new patients can conduct their first visits through telehealth. This small change made a huge difference for rural patients, elderly or disabled individuals, and anyone else whose schedule makes in-person visits difficult.

Providing high-quality care to people with mental health or addiction issues requires early intervention, long-term care and acute response in emergencies. And until we can eliminate the unfortunate stigma long associated with mental health and addiction care, in-home telehealth visits can also take the fear out of seeking care. By virtually meeting individuals in their own homes, we’re ensuring that they have consistent support no matter what’s going on in the outside world. We can reach those in need before they find themselves in a moment of crisis.

As we look to the future, we should be encouraged by this year’s successes with telehealth and inspired to build on these advancements to further reimagine mental health and addiction care. Virtual visits must remain a necessary and vital aspect of care. The evidence is overwhelming, and we know the demand for this care is becoming greater than ever as well. We have an opportunity to permanently alter the role of telehealth in our healthcare system, and we support the regulators, policymakers and legislators working to make that a reality.

COVID-19 may have been the impetus for the rapid acceleration of our telehealth services, but our commitment to human health and providing the care that our communities need should drive us to keep the momentum going.

Learn more about our telehealth offerings at Sutter Health, or make an appointment, here.

Championing Mental Wellness for Those Who Champion Our Freedom

Posted on Nov 11, 2020 in Mental Health & Addiction Care, Scroll Images

A blog by James Conforti, COO Sutter Health, and John Boyd, PsyD, CEO Sutter Health Mental Health & Addiction Care

On Veterans Day, we honor all of the incredible people, those living and those who are not, for their service to our country. While we should honor these men and women every day, today we pay tribute to their commitments and thank their families, too. We also acknowledge their sacrifices—many that came at a great price.

For veterans and their families, their sacrifices can often result in increased mental health challenges, addiction and suicide. The National Council for Behavioral Health notes that less than half of returning veterans in need of mental health treatment receive needed support and care. In addition, the Council reports 30% of active duty and reserve military personnel deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan—about 730,000 men and women—have a mental health condition such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or major depression that requires treatment. The Veterans Administration reports that 22 veterans die by suicide every day. And the impact extends beyond veterans to their families, with longer deployment lengths associated with more emotional challenges among military children and more mental health challenges among partners.

We know this first-hand.

James served in the U.S. Army for several years as did his father and his brother. Combined, they have almost 50 years of service. He remains connected to his comrades to this day in a forever cemented bond and is connected to many more through his healthcare role. Whether assisting those who support our homeless veterans or helping address the mental health challenges they face, he sees firsthand the lasting impact of their service to our great country. Many veterans transition into civilian life smoothly. Unfortunately, there are many more who struggle not only with the transition out of military service but the lasting effects of their service.

John has worked with veterans in clinical settings. He also has the firsthand experience of losing his cousin, Wes, who served three tours of duty in the Marines in Iran and Afghanistan. The loss did not happen while on duty, but after Wes’ attempts to return back to civilian life.

Prior to serving, Wes was an ambitious young man who was already a homeowner. On tour, he saw many heart-wrenching scenes, including witnessing the death of a fellow Marine. Following his time in the military, he was met with little formal support to transition back into civilian life. With limited access to mental health care and addiction prevention, he became addicted to opioids. Eventually, the addiction progressed to heroin. Wes lived with John and his partner for a significant period of time. He was in and out of treatment centers, all private, due to his challenges accessing veterans’ services. Despite much love, energy and expense, Wes and his family paid the ultimate price when his addiction led to his death at age 32.

While some steps are improving support to veterans, there is so much more that must be done. We must continue to advocate for increased mental health support, including addiction care, intervention and suicide-prevention services. We must be mindful when we thank our veterans for their service that many carry a lasting moral injury from the actions they had to take while on tour or in war. We must all come together—healthcare experts, business leaders, faith communities, veterans’ advocates, families—to be fully present for veterans as they return to civilian life. That means genuinely and warmly welcoming veterans back, giving them the care and support they deserve, and opening doors to social connection and employment.

There is no shame in the pursuit of mental wellness for these champions of our freedom—or for any one of us. Mental health is human health, after all, and we are all human.

Please join us in pausing today to honor our veterans—whether they are known or unknown to you. We hope that, when you do, you think about the spirit of their sacrifices and remember their shared commitment to peace. We hope you will also consider giving back to those who served us all.

Resources for Veterans
US Department of Veterans Affairs has a hotline at 1-855-948-2311.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or, you can connect with a trained crisis counselor through the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.
Cohen Veterans Network, a Veterans Crisis Line is available at 1-800-273-8255, Press 1.
PsychArmor, online training to support military service members, veterans and their families.

This World Mental Health Day, Let’s Celebrate the Creativity of Our Young People

Posted on Oct 9, 2020 in Mental Health & Addiction Care, Scroll Images

A message from John Boyd, Sutter’s CEO of System Mental Health & Addiction Care:

World Mental Health Day is always an opportunity to reflect on our well-being, both as individuals and as a society. After the unprecedented difficulties and upheavals of 2020, it should also serve as a challenge. We can no longer minimize or overlook the impact of individual and collective trauma, and we must work together to ensure a more supportive, empathetic and human future. Central to that project is reimagining “mental health” as “human health”—it’s fundamental to who we are, how we connect with others and how we understand the world around us. Making this shift in thinking a reality must start with a focus on young people.

As I’ve written about before, my own childhood was shaped by experiences of trauma, stigma and shame. Sadly, these same experiences are far too common among our youth, and the events of the past year have only further intensified the impact. Too often, the heaviest burden falls on our most marginalized communities, including people of color and neurodiverse students. With schools across the country facing difficult questions about whether and how to safely re-open, it’s important to center students’ developmental needs in addition to their educational needs.

It goes without saying that young people, particularly adolescents, place a great deal of value in their friendships and peer relationships. There is a deep biological and psychological basis for this—adolescents are hard-wired to seek out friendships and form social bonds. They are also learning to assert their independence, challenge authority, and test boundaries (as any teacher or parent will attest!). School and extracurricular activities provide critical outlets for these fundamental needs, and unfortunately many public health guidelines—physical distancing, avoiding large groups—are in tension with the developmental needs of our young people. But we can learn a lot about how we can solve these problems from young people themselves.

One of the most heartening aspects of the past year, despite its difficulties, has been the many stories of creativity, hope, and resilience from young people. The developmental processes I mentioned above are also great drivers of creative thinking. What may look like boredom or impatience from the outside can also be an opening for a novel, innovative idea.

We’ve seen that spirit of discovery and creativity as young people continue to raise their voices in response to ongoing police violence around the country. Others have used technology in surprising ways to stay connected with friends despite many new obstacles. Young artists are also finding ways to create through diverse media, providing a vital outlet for self-expression at a difficult time in a young person’s life. No matter what the future has in store, we can always count on young people to surprise us.

In that spirit of creativity, Sutter Health is reimagining youth mental health through human-centered design. We have a assembled a diverse team of clinical experts, social workers, designers and youth advisors to understand the lived experience of young people as they transition from childhood through adolescence and into adulthood. The interplay between the ups and downs of everyday life, developmental psychology and living with a mental health condition presents unique challenges for young people at this age. That’s why it’s so critical that we take a human health approach to reimagining the experience of young people living with mental health conditions.

We’re all facing more constraints than ever in 2020, and it’s our responsibility to keep exploring and imagining new ways to meet these challenges. We should inspire our young people to do the same—their resourcefulness and empathy gives me hope for the future. Our creativity is one of the things that makes us human. Let’s use that creativity to be healthier, too.

“I Should Have Known”—Identifying Suicide’s Warning Signs

Posted on Sep 14, 2020 in Mental Health & Addiction Care, Scroll Images

A message from John Boyd, PsyD, Sutter Health’s CEO of Mental Health Services, during Suicide Prevention Awareness Month.

When I learned the news that I had lost someone to suicide, my first thought was, “I should have known.”

As a long-time mental health advocate and practitioner, I knew my response was the most common thought to cross the minds of those touched by suicide. I knew that family and friends repeatedly consider what difference it may have made had they known and intervened. I knew my years of education and training did not make me immune from this sense of responsibility and guilt.

It can often take a community to detect the warning signs that surface as pieces of a puzzle, appearing at different times and before different people. That people considering suicide are often afraid to speak up due to the stigma surrounding the mental health and addiction issues that most often lead to suicide. And while mental health issues are the most common reason for death by suicide, there are more hidden and less known reasons—financial problems, traumatic stress, relationship issues, the loss of family acceptance, academic failure and bullying.

This is why it’s so important that all of us learn as much as we can about the warning signs that lead to this irreversible outcome. National Suicide Prevention Awareness Month gives us all the opportunity to learn and share more.

We can all relate to struggling with despair and hardship. And there are specific signs that point to it all becoming too much for someone to bear—things like hopelessness about the future, sleep problems, withdrawal from friends or social activities, changes in personality or appearance, dangerous or self-harmful behavior, making preparations to put personal business in order, or threatening or talking about suicide. Mental health challenges are the leading factor, with 30% to 70% of suicide victims suffering from major depression or bipolar (manic-depressive) disorder, according to Mental Health America. The organization also notes that those with substance abuse disorders are six times more likely to complete suicide than those without.

Strikingly, this is an issue particularly common among healthcare workers who spend their days caring for others. Research cited by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) estimates that one doctor commits suicide each day. Physicians’ suicide risk is higher than any other profession due to higher rates of anxiety, depression and burnout. Yet, due to long-held stigmas, it is often more difficult for healthcare providers to reach out for support, notes the American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP). Studies show that this risk is only increasing as providers care for themselves, their families and their patients during a global pandemic. At Sutter Health, we make our physicians’ and employees’ mental wellbeing a top priority, creating awareness, providing resources and reducing the stigma surrounding speaking up and asking for help.

Coming Together for Human Health

In what ways do we—as a community—address these alarming facts? It starts with understanding that mental health is human health. We are all human, deserving of compassion and grace. It starts by each and every one of us talking openly, sharing our experiences and listening to others to break through the stigma associated with mental health and addiction challenges.

In sharing our stories and experiences, we can reduce stigma. In opening our hearts and minds, we can heighten awareness. Most importantly, in coming together with care and compassion for one another, we can work together to recognize when someone needs us most.

Crisis Lifelines

If you or someone you know is in distress, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or you can connect with a trained crisis counselor through the Crisis Text Line by texting 741741.

Can COVID-19 Spur Change in Mental Health?

Posted on Sep 2, 2020 in Mental Health & Addiction Care, Scroll Images

Mystery still surrounds COVID-19. How will it impact the upcoming flu season? Will younger generations eventually experience more severe symptoms?

COVID-19 has also brought attention to matters important to the here and now, like the broader need for mental health support, especially in times of crisis. A recent report in Psychology Today notes that one-third of U.S adults have reported clinical anxiety and depression symptoms related to this public health crisis. Professionals are concerned that suicide rates will greatly increase over the next few months, and they’re calling for change in how we care for and talk about mental health.

John Boyd, PsyD.

“We need to create organizations, healthcare systems and communities where it’s ok for our young people and others to openly talk about needing additional mental health support,” said Sutter Health’s Mental Health & Addiction Care CEO, John Boyd, PsyD. “That means bringing human design back into mental health and addiction care. At Sutter Health, we believe mental health is human health, and we are studying new ways for youth to manage mental health in their everyday lives.”

Hear more from Dr. Boyd on this topic in the Healthcare Executive Podcast, a program by the American College of Healthcare Executives.