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As isolation leaves many susceptible to anxiety, providers offer tips for mental health

hosting@thebarkfirm.com Behavioral Health News

Local, state and national leaders have all urged residents to avoid public areas and avoid in-person interactions as the novel coronavirus continues to spread.

Compound that social isolation with an the uncertainty brought about by a pandemic, and it could have a severe impact on a person’s mental health.

“I think the biggest thing is a feeling of being isolated. That in and of itself can create anxiety,” said Kevin Hazucha, CEO of the Central Wyoming Counseling Center. “We all want to feel connected; it’s human nature.”

Without that connection, Hazucha said, anxiety and depression can easily invade someone’s life.

Social isolation and social distancing help limit the transmission of the virus. As hospitals brace for an influx of cases, health experts say limiting those cases by reducing person-to-person interactions is one way to prevent a surge of hospitalizations and deaths.

Many states have issued shelter-in-place orders requiring residents to distance from each other and only leave home for essentials. Wyoming has not issued such an order, but Gov. Mark Gordon has urged residents to socially distance and avoid public places.

Hazucha recommends staying connected with friends and family through technology, keeping a routine, avoiding watching the news all day, eating right, getting some sleep and exercising.

Easier said than done sometimes, he conceded. Still, he said it’s important to focus on what can be controlled.

“This is such a fluid environment, it shakes you out of your day-to-day reality,” Hazucha said. “You want to get people to take it a day at a time.”

He said it’s important to check up on your loved ones and maintain contact, “even if it’s just for five seconds.”

The Counseling Center is trying to adapt to ensure its clients are still able to make that contact when they need to, either online via telehealth or over the phone. The center provides counseling, addiction treatment, and services for adults and children, among other programs. Hazucha’s hope is soon all of their services will be accessible through telehealth.

His worry is that in the meantime, somebody looking for help will have a harder time accessing it, which could mean they don’t look for help at all.

“The biggest obstacle we have is that initial call for help,” he said, adding that soon all of the center’s counselors should be equipped for telehealth sessions.

“Anytime anybody feels they could use some assistance … we want to encourage people to reach out any time,” he said.

Cori Cosner-Burton, executive director of Casper’s Mercer Family Resource Center, is worried about this too, especially because the situation may compound existing disparities in the state.

Wyoming has the second-highest suicide rate in the nation, and Cosner-Burton said cases tend to increase this time of year.

“So to have this social isolation happening on top of those two components —” she said, cutting her sentence off.

Cosner-Burton offered similar recommendations to Hazucha’s for improving one’s mental health, saying to stay connected by phone or online, to get sunshine and to monitor news intake.

“You don’t have to spend a lot of money to do those things,” she said.

She said focusing on the present is also important, particularly in a time of uncertainty.

Cosner-Burton also suggested reaching out to a counseling service if anxiety or depression in the shadow of COVID-19 overwhelms a person’s daily life. If they’re having trouble getting out of bed, eating meals — typical daily activities — she said they should seek help.

“Early on, it’s better to reach out,” she said. “It doesn’t mean you’re in therapy forever.”

She said some people may want ongoing counseling, while others might only need a session or two to realign themselves.

Mercer is still offering counseling via telehealth and over the phone, and they are working to put other programs online.

To contact Mercer Family Resource Center, call 307-265-7366.

To contact Central Wyoming Counseling Center, call 307-237-9583.

To reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, call 1-800-273-TALK.

And to access Wyoming’s crisis text line, text “WYO” to 741-741.

WHAT CANCER AND DEPRESSION HAVE IN COMMON

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Cropped shot of two unrecognizable people holding hands in comfort

We all know what’s it’s like to have a bad day, go through a difficult time or have the blues. These are rough patches in our lives, but we’re able to get through them with support from people around us, and perhaps the greatest solace is hope. Tough times are more bearable knowing that brighter times are ahead. So when someone you love is experiencing depression, all that person needs from you are a few reminders about the good things he or she has and that they’ll eventually snap out of it, right? Even with the very best intentions, this approach couldn’t be more wrong.

Clinical depression is a far different beast than the ordinary rough spell we all experience from time to time. It’s not something someone “just gets over.” Sometimes depression is triggered by external circumstances, but sometimes it’s not. It’s a vastly different experience than a bad few days, nor is it like a cold that passes after a few miserable weeks. In fact, depression has a lot more in common with a heart condition or cancer that can only be addressed by treatment.

“There’s a widespread misconception that clinical depression is just that the person is having a hard day, and they’ll snap out of it on their own, but they probably won’t. Depression is a lot more than that,” Bill Howell, Director of Youth and Family Services at Central Wyoming Counseling Center, said. There are physiological causes that impact synapses and nerves in the brain that can result in feeling like there’s no hope ahead.

It can be difficult to know the difference between someone who is going through a bad time and someone who is facing clinical depression, but Howell says to look for frequency. If a loved one exhibits patterns of behavior rather than a few isolated incidents, it could be depression. Have you observed a pattern of sadness, hopelessness or prolonged changes in behavior or work habits? If any of these characteristics last longer than a couple weeks, Howell says it might be time to approach that person about depression.

Obviously, this is a delicate subject that most of us aren’t comfortable with, especially since mental illness is so widely misunderstood. Know that you’re coming from a place of love, so the person will appreciate your concern, but Howell has a few pieces of advice on things you should and shouldn’t say during this potentially difficult conversation.

  • Create a safe environment for the person to confide in you. Be open to listening before talking. Let your loved one take the lead when he or she feels comfortable talking about it. Assure the individual that they’re not going through this alone.
  • Validate what the person is feeling. Don’t oversimplify what he or she is going through or tell them they shouldn’t feel this way. This person doesn’t want to go through this and “snapping out of it” isn’t possible. After all, you wouldn’t expect someone with cancer to get over it.
  • This individual does have people in his or her life that care enough to notice there’s something wrong; you initiating the conversation is proof. So while there are positives, all the blessings in the world aren’t going to change the chemistry in the brain that is causing depression. Try not to minimize the situation into a math equation where good is greater than bad.
  • Avoid using “you” statements, and use “I” statements instead. For example: “I’ve noticed you’ve been sleeping more lately, and I’ve seen a few other things that I want to talk you about.” This makes the conversation feel less like a confrontation.
  • Reiterate that while you want to help and provide support, you’re not an expert. By talking about what you’ve seen and observed, suggest that he or she see a professional. Central Wyoming Counseling Center has Open Access hours for evaluation with compassionate, capable experts. Suggest he or she visit cwcc.us or call 237.9583.
  • Ask more than once. While there is a delicate balance between being pushy and being reticent, your loved one will appreciate that you care enough to keep noticing sadness. Read cues. You know the individual well enough to know that he or she is struggling, so bring it up again when you think the time is right.

Finally, educate yourself on local resources for depression. Central is the right outlet for your loved one, but you need information and support, as well. The National Alliance on Mental Illness, or NAMI, has a local chapter that will empower you to be a champion for mental health and an advocate for your loved ones. Learn more about NAMI.

If you ever feel that your loved one is suicidal or is in danger of harming themselves, call 911.

However you choose to approach someone about depression, know that your love and concern will be your friend or family member’s overwhelming takeaway from the conversation, as long as you don’t minimize the condition. “It’s important to be careful about what you say, but you should always say something. Kindness goes a long way,” Howell said.

TREAT LONELINESS THIS MONTH OF LOVE — VISIT CENTRAL WYOMING COUNSELING CENTER

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In February, we recognize relationships of all kinds ranging from romance to “Galentines” with flower bouquets, mushy cards and chalky candies. Love is supposed to be in the air. But if you’re one of the millions of Americans facing loneliness, this month can feel extra cold.

According to a recent article in Time Magazine*, one in four American adults say they rarely or never feel as though they have close friends or family who truly understand them, and millions of adults consider TV their main source of company. In the U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May appointed the first-ever Minister for Loneliness early last year. This condition afflicts people across the world of all age groups and socioeconomic statuses. And it’s something that mental health professionals are taking seriously.

“Loneliness is very subjective and personal, so people are going to experience it differently. Some people feel lonely when they’re isolated and others feel lonely when they’re surrounded by people. You don’t necessarily have to be by yourself to feel lonely,” Cathy Cywinski, a Clinical Therapist at Central Wyoming Counseling Center, said.

Defining this emotion is difficult as it manifests itself differently from person to person; some people feel completely alone even if they’re often in groups while others can be fulfilled and healthy in solitude. Generally speaking, loneliness is a discrepancy between what you have and what you want. You want more connection and to feel like you have other people who understand you and care about you. Ironically, in today’s hyper-connected world, more people than ever report feeling lonely. Social media tends to exacerbate feelings of isolation and is considered a huge factor in the dramatic increase of loneliness.

“As we’ve become addicted to social media and our phones, we’ve forgotten how to communicate with each other in real life. When you’re used to relying on Facebook and Instagram for connections, you feel very lonely if that gets taken away when you don’t get your Likes and comments,” Cywinski said.

Fortunately, she says there are practical ways to combat this. If you feel lonely because you’re having a hard time meeting people, do something you enjoy in a new setting. Join a book club, enroll in a cooking class or pick up a new group fitness activity. Take yourself out of your comfort zone as you participating in something you enjoy.

However, loneliness can also be part of a larger mental health disorder like depression or anxiety. Loneliness can mask clinical depression, so Cywinski cautions people who are feeling lonely to also be on the lookout for other signs of depression like poor concentration, not participating in things you usually enjoy or suicidal thoughts. Depression can also cause loneliness, as people with mental health disorders often feel isolated and misunderstood, so they’re not usually engaging meaningfully with other people. But with help, this cycle can be broken.

“Whether you’re just experiencing loneliness or it’s part of a bigger mental health issue, Central can absolutely help. We’re here to be your support system. We have a great team of people in place who can work with you to develop strategies on finding new ways to meet people and get you out of your comfort zone. And when necessary, we can treat and address whatever condition is causing your loneliness,” Cywinski said.

If this time of year has you feeling especially isolated or sad, call Central at 237.9583 or visit during their Open Access hours Mondays, Wednesday and Friday from 9:00-11:0 a.m. or Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:00-4:00 p.m. You’ll love yourself for making the change.

* Source: “The Loneliness Epidemic” by Markham Heid Time Magazine; Dec. 2018

HOW TO GIVE YOURSELF THE BEST GIFT THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

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It’s Christmas Day, and the kitchen air is heavy with the sticky, sugary aroma of ham in the oven. Though this is a familiar scenario for most of us, that same smell can trigger something different for everyone. For example, dessert lovers might get excited for homemade sugar cookies, while grandparents may only be thinking about playing the kids and their new toys. Or maybe you start to itch for the bottle of find red wine that traditionally accompanies this dinner. If this is because you love wine, it only enriches the experience, but if it’s because you’re in recovery from addiction, it could potentially mean relapse.

The distinctive smells, sparkling sites and jingling sounds of the season are powerful triggers for all kinds of emotions, memories and behaviors. If you’re treating substance use disorder, or addiction as it’s commonly referred to, managing all of the social situations that include alcohol throughout December can be cause for derailment if you’re not being proactive in your treatment.

“Don’t let those holiday triggers sneak up and surprise you. This season can be very stressful emotionally, financially and all of the demands on our time. Be intentional with a plan to stay sober,” Erin Ford, Outpatient Services Manager at Central Wyoming Counseling, said.

Ford manages the Outpatient Substance Abuse Team, a group of counselors trained in treating addiction. Many of these professionals are in recovery themselves, so they empathize with the unique challenges of this time of year. To help you stay sober, Ford and her team have strategies to keep you successful into 2019:

  1. Communicate with your sober support group. Be in regular contact with your sober contact. Build up strength by attending more meetings throughout November and December, and keep your contacts informed of challenging situations. Touch base before and after every event during which there’s a chance you could relapse. Not only does this give you outside support, but it also helps keep you accountable.
  2. Have allies at an event. Whether it’s a family dinner, office Christmas party or another social gathering, inform one or two people you trust that you’re staying sober. They can help you through the situation as well as act as a buffer between you and other people in attendance.
  3. Keep a nonalcoholic drink in your hands at all times. This makes other people less likely to offer or bring you an alcoholic drink.
  4. Have an escape plan. Some events might just be too much, so you need to be able to leave right away. Bring your own transportation or have a reliable ride ready.
  5. You don’t have to go to every event. Select opportunities that will keep you successful, and remember that it’s OK to say ‘no,’ especially if it’s at a place or with people that you think you’ll find stressful.
  6. Manage your expectations. Many people with substance use disorder find that the holidays are especially difficult, so be prepared. It’s easy to romanticize this time of year as magical, but disappointment and sadness are both powerful triggers for relapse. Understand that the commercialized version of the season might not be what yours looks like.
  7. Embrace holiday cheer. Just because your reality isn’t the stuff of made-for-TV Christmas movies doesn’t mean that it can’t be special and full of reasons to be excited and things to look forward to. Consider hosting a sober event so that you can control the environment and still be surrounded by loved ones. Make a goal to create at least one new sober holiday tradition this year.

“It takes work to readjust to the holidays. You have to purposefully protect your sobriety, but you can still have a memorable season. Never come at it from a ‘we’ll see how it goes’ standpoint, and work to respond instead of reacting to your emotions. There’s a big sober support network here, so you don’t have to try and grit it out alone,” Ford said.

That sober network includes Central Wyoming Counseling Center. The Outpatient Substance Abuse Team is available for walk-ins with no appointment necessary during open access hours Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9:00-11:00 a.m. and Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:00-4:00 p.m. Appointments are also available during regular business hours.

If you need support when Central is closed including Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day or any other time outside of regular business hours, Central has on-call therapists available 24 hours per day, seven days per week. Just call 307.237.9583, and you will be connected to a therapist through the answering service.

As you begin your 2018 holiday season, remember that staying clean and sober is the best gift you can ever give your loved ones, and more importantly, yourself.

BLOOD-CURLING SCREAMS OF…DELIGHT? UNDERSTANDING THE FUN IN FEAR

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Your heart rate spikes. Your muscles tighten. Your pupils dilate. Your senses are acutely heightened. You are afraid, and fear has activated your autonomic fight or flight reflexes. Biologically, our brain’s amygdala has alerted the rest of body that we’re in danger, and we’ve entered into survival mode. We become hyper aware of our surroundings to protect us from our perceived risk.

Fear is a highly functional, evolutionary response that keeps us alive. In it’s most atavistic form, it helped protect caveman from being eaten by wild animals or falling off cliffs. The feeling of fear is counterintuitive to our most basic instincts, so certainly we should avoid situations that would induce this response. Right? Yet against our best biological judgment, we seek it out, especially around this time of year. We’ll even pay money to experience it. We watch horror movies, visit haunted houses and engage in other Halloween thrills. If fear is indicative of danger, why do we deliberately make ourselves afraid? Why is being scared so much fun?

“Safe ways to feel fear are entertainment. You get the adrenaline rush, and we actually feel accomplished when we survive whatever fearful situation we put ourselves in. It’s controlled terror,” Central Wyoming Counseling Center Chief Clinical Officer Joe Forscher said.

Fear-inducing experiences ranging from rollercoasters to Stephen King novels to spooky corn mazes allow us to flirt with danger on our own terms. We choose to enter into the haunted house, we willfully move from one terrifying room to the next, and we leave feeling stronger because we managed to complete the task, even though our amygdala was screaming at us to run. Our rational brains overrule our fight or flight instincts, because we know that the zombies, blood-stained axes and creepy clowns that we’re seeing aren’t actually a threat. It’s a biological “have your cake and eat it too.”

While we share this primitive instinct that controls our physical responses to dangerous conditions with animals, humans experience fear cognitively, as well. We have anxiety about the future and our emotions. A monkey will never have an existential crisis, but humans can fear loneliness, commitment or next month’s bills. Forscher says this can be just as beneficial as our response to physically dangerous situations.

“We look into the future and worry. Worry can help us, but the problem comes in when that becomes maladaptive, and we unnecessarily project negative outcomes. That runs a risk of become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we can learn to channel this anxiety, it becomes productive,” he explained.

Fear does not have to be in the form of a debilitating phobia to adversely impact us, and our lives don’t have to have horror movies plot twists to feel frightening. Ordinary fears like balancing work and family, building relationships or stress management can all feel overwhelming or even unresolvable, but it’s these kind of anxieties that professional help can effectively manage.

The Central Wyoming Counseling Center’s team of counselors and therapists can guide you through all of the scary parts of life. A mental health professional can find solutions that fit your unique fears and challenges.

Forscher says that bravery isn’t the absence of fear. It’s staying in control when you’re afraid. It’s being mindful of consequences and realities. So this month, enjoy and engage in the thrills of Halloween. But if your fears are rooted in something a little more real, call Central Wyoming Counseling Center at 237.9583 today.

THIS NATIONAL RECOVERY MONTH, LEARN HOW ADDICTION IS MORE MANAGEABLE THAN THE COMMON COLD

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Alcohol and substance use are shrouded by shameful and often inaccurate stigmas. Mental health professionals battle the dangerous misconception that addiction is a self-induced malady, and those afflicted by it should just “try harder” to get better. This National Recovery Month, recognized every September, Central Wyoming Counseling Center (Central) is dispelling these myths. Addiction is actually a metabolic disease. It’s a condition that requires lifelong management — not something that someone just gets over.

“Addiction disorder is a chronic illness. Even though the chemical, whether it’s alcohol, opioids, or another substance, is killing the person using it, the body doesn’t feel like it can function without it. So patients feel mental anguish and a range of other physical symptoms, which can last for years after a person gets clean,” Carol King, Central Director of Adult Residential Services, says. Physical symptoms vary by substance, but they include body aches and pains, sleeplessness and impotence.

King likens addiction disorder to diabetes, another metabolic disease. Both are longterm illnesses, but with the right treatment plans and support systems in place, they can be successfully managed. Whether patients face mild, moderate or severe substance use disorder, Central is prepared to treat everyone, judgment free.

The process begins with Central’s Open Access program, which is an open door opportunity to come talk about substance use. To ensure that each patient’s unique needs are met, the individual’s substance use is fully assessed, which then becomes the foundation for his or her treatment plan. From there, Central professionals might recommend Outpatient Counseling, which consists of routine one-on-one appointments; Intensive Outpatient, a 12 week program with both group and individual sessions; or Inpatient Residential treatment when a patient resides at Central.

“Seventy-five percent of all people with addiction learn to manage it. We don’t manage cancer, colds or any other illness at that rate. It’s huge how many people go on to have healthy and productive family, vocational and social lives,” King said.

This National Recovery Month, assess your own substance use. Do you ever find that you don’t want to use but continue to do so? Or do you intend to use a little but use more than you planned? Is substance use causing legal, family or school problems? If so, Open Access is a low-pressure way to have an impartial professional evaluate whether you have a disorder or how likely you are to develop one.

Even if you’re not ready to quit using, King says that anyone with any level of concern about substance use should visit. “If you’re not sure you have a problem, it’s OK to come process. If you want to come in and just consider being sober, we’re not here to lock anyone up. We’re here to help whenever you’re ready,” she said.

If you’ve tried getting clean once or even multiple times before, King encourages you to revisit your efforts.“This usually takes a few tries, but people do get well,” she said.

To learn more about substance use disorder or to schedule an appointment, call Central today at 307.237.9583.

HOW TO EASE BACK-TO-SCHOOL ANXIETY

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Though it might feel like the snow has barely melted, leaves are beginning to fall on Casper Mountain. Soon school bells will be ringing, and your kiddo is probably starting to feel anxiety about the upcoming school year.

According to Central Wyoming Counseling Center Director of Youth and Family Services Bill Howell, it’s important for parents to play an active role in this transition so your kids understand you’re going through this transition time together. Here are five tips for a seamless summer-to-school shift.

  1. Start your in-school routine before class is in session. Put your child to bed at the time she will be going to bed during the school year now, and wake her up when she’ll have to go back to school. Ease your family back into your routine before the other stresses of school start.
  2. Make a list of positives about going back to school like seeing old friends, playing sports, or music class. Pointing out the positives can make going back to school less scary and hopefully even exciting. Your child will follow your example of enthusiasm.
  3. Put your child in control of a few small things. Let him pick out his first-day-of-school outfit or what he’ll eat for breakfast that day. He can feel out of control when he’s forced to go back to school, so allowing him to make a few choices can help him feel more in control.
  4. Validate your child’s emotions about returning to school. If he says he’s afraid, telling him not to be isn’t helpful. Instead, assure him you understand his feelings and help him overcome them by saying something like, “It’s OK to be afraid. But when you are afraid of something, you have to be brave and face your fears. You can do this.”
  5. Send a piece of you to school with your child. Maybe that’s a note in her lunchbox, a special treat for snack time, or let her wear a piece of your (inexpensive) jewelry. That small reminder that she’s loved by you will bring her comfort throughout the day.

Whatever approach you take, it’s important to show that you’re excited for school, even if you’re secretly sharing your student’s back-to-school blues. And if you need something to look forward to, Howell has some advice for next summer. “Continue learning behaviors throughout the summer with fun and educational games. There’s tons of virtual opportunities that your child will love. It’s important to keep that learning environment active at home so they don’t forget everything they learned throughout the school year,” he said.

If you’re concerned that your child is feeling an unusually high level of stress about going back to school, call Central Wyoming Counseling Center today. Central professionals can help balance the everyday stresses of family, work, school and everything else life throws at us, even if these challenges appear routine or small.

HOW TO MAKE VACATION LAST ALL YEAR LONG

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The reality that summer is at its halfway point can hit hard during the hot days of July. Many of us find ourselves looking back at the last two months wondering where the time went and worrying that we haven’t capitalized on this preciously short season — especially if it hasn’t included a big vacation. But not to worry, because there’s weekends all year long, which means that 2018 can be even more fulfilling than years with traditional trips.Extended weekends and short getaways have similar physical and psychological benefits of longer vacations. You’re still able to enjoy the feelings of escaping stress or mundane routines, then feel ready to return to work and everyday life feeling rejuvenated. The obvious benefit of mini-vacations is that we can take them more frequently, perhaps even routinely.“There are three different pleasures that can come from vacations. First is the anticipation of the trip before you go, second is the actual experience and third is the reminiscing, or the memories. So, if you think about taking multiple mini-vacations throughout the year, you can recreate all three of these pleasures many times,” Central Wyoming Counseling Center CEO Joe Forscher said.We’d all like to have more balance and less stress in our lives. A three day camping trip where you’ve escaped from civilization is probably going to be much more restorative than a week long resort stay where you’re constantly checking your phone. When you get back, you feel productive and ready to work, and by making these trips regular, the next one is always on the horizon.And if we’re able to keep our mini-vacation itinerary short, we’re likely to enjoy the experience even more, Forscher says. “Focus on a prime directive, so make one thing the center of your trip. First, ask yourself what your goal is. Do you want to relax? Do you want to be entertained? If you’re going to Cheyenne to see a rodeo, focus on the rodeo and everything else is secondary. Leave your laptop at home, and really soak in that rodeo to get everything you can out of it. It will make both the actual experience and the memories of it much better,” he said.Here in Wyoming, we’re fortunate to have dozens of getaway opportunities within driving distance for all families with all interests. If the mountains are calling, submerse yourself in the wonders of Yellowstone or the Big Horns. Or if you need a city fix, Fort Collins offers many of the same shopping and restaurant experiences of Denver without the traffic. For something even closer to home, Casper and its surrounding areas like Alcova Reservoir and Casper Mountain feature stunning scenery and inexpensive travel.Planning vacation time and budget around smaller, shorter getaways rather than one long trip means that you and your family will have more to look forward to throughout the year while experiencing similar benefits over a much longer time period. For more guidance on balancing work, family and the rest of life’s challenges, schedule an appointment with Central Wyoming Counseling Center today at 307.237.9583.

DRIVING SOBER THIS NATIONAL SAFETY MONTH MEANS MORE THAN STAYING AWAY FROM DRINKS

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June is National Safety Month, which aims to reduce preventable injury and death at work, at home and in our communities. One of the easiest ways to keep Casper and Wyoming safer is on our roads, which starts with sober drivers. While Wyoming’s alcohol-related driving under the influence (DUI) incidents have decreased since 2012, drug-impaired driving is on the rise.

The use of marijuana, prescription or other illicit drugs, can make driving a car just as unsafe as consuming alcohol. The effect of specific drugs varies by individual, but marijuana typically slows reaction time, impairs judgement of time and distance and decreases coordination. Mixed with alcohol, these effects are worsened.

Similarly, prescription drugs, even when used correctly and by the person to whom they were prescribed, can also significantly impact driving abilities. Depending on the prescription, they can cause dizziness, drowsiness or even aggression and recklessness. Vehicles are considered heavy machinery, so any prescriptive warning not to operate heavy machinery under use includes driving. A 2010 nationwide study of deadly crashes indicated that about 47 percent of drivers who tested positive for drugs had used a prescription drug, the most of common of which were pain relievers.

Unfortunately, drug-impaired driving is all too common across the United States. In 2016, 20.7 million people drove under the influence of alcohol and 11.8 million drove under the influence of drugs.

In Wyoming, arrests related to drug impaired driving are steadily increasing. These figures, provided by the Wyoming Association of Sheriffs and Chiefs of Police (WASCOP), show that the number of drug-related driving arrests and accidents continues to rise each year.

While there are multiple ways to test for marijuana and prescription drugs as part of DUI convictions, the number of drivers with drugs in their system is actually higher than these charts indicate, as police typically do not test for drugs if drivers have reached an illegal blood alcohol level. With enough evidence already for a DUI charge, drivers with alcohol and drugs in their system are often not included in drug-impaired statistics.

Central Wyoming Counseling Center wants to remind drivers that drug-impaired driving is just as dangerous and illegal as driving under the influence of alcohol. So as you go to barbecues, ball games and the beach this June, remind yourself that this time of year should remain celebratory. Drug-impaired driving can result in arrest, injury or worse. June is National Safety Month and all of Wyoming benefits if you take part.

Resources:
https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugfacts/drugged-driving
Alcohol+and+Crime+in+Wyoming+-+2016+Executive+Summary.pdf

WHAT WE SHOULD BE SAYING WHEN WE TALK ABOUT SUICIDE

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A NEW FILM SHARES SUICIDE SURVIVORS’ STORIES

In Lisa Klein’s first year of college, she lost both her father and brother to suicide. For years, she felt like no one understood her grief, her guilt or her shame. So she faced it in silence.

Suicide is hard to talk about. It’s taboo and shrouded by stigma, so Klein, like many affected by suicide, endured her pain alone. She carried it with her through college, then her graduate studies and into her career as a filmmaker. In 2012, Klein and her husband released a documentary they made about people living with bipolar disorder, another mental health condition that afflicted her family. The film was called Of Two Minds, and Klein was proud of her work and the positive impact it made. She thought that she had also managed to confront suicide with this project, as bipolar disorder can cause suicidal thoughts and actions. But when Klein found a community of suicide attempt survivors who were now thriving, she realized she hadn’t even scratched the surface of the topic that had so profoundly and perversely affected her life.

Every person she spoke to had their own unique story and circumstances related to suicide, whether they had attempted it or were survived by it. These people ranged from rich to poor, addicts to professionals. Some were educated, some weren’t. Some were obviously depressed and some were good at hiding it. But no matter how vast their differences were, Klein found one recurring theme in everyone: they all felt disconnected.

“Think of how important connection is for all of us. When someone really listens to you — that’s when you can release. That’s when you’re able to unburden yourself,” Klein said.  

But identifying this thread wasn’t enough. Klein needed to show that making a connection is always possible, no matter how alone someone may feel.

“The more survivors I talked to, the more the film became focused on lived experience and not so much on loss. We’ve all seen the statistics, and everyone knows someone who died by suicide. But when you sit down and talk to someone, and look into their eyes, you’ll see humanity in them, and that’s what moves us. This film brings humanity to suicide,” she said.

In case you haven’t seen the statistics, more than 44,00 people die annually from suicide. In 2014, it was the 2nd leading cause of death among 10- to 34-year-olds, and the 10th leading cause of death in the nation overall. In 2015, 157 people died from suicide in Wyoming, which was nine times higher than the number of deaths by homicide. On average, one person dies by suicide every two days in the Cowboy State.

“Because suicide per capita is so high in Wyoming, there’s a lot of awareness here. We have many different programs doing amazing work to raise awareness. But we need to move our efforts more upstream and toward prevention. This is more about depression and mental health. How do we make ourselves a healthier state? If your leg is broken, you go to the doctor, but we see mental health so differently,” Joanne Theobald, Casper College’s Director of Counseling, said. 

Klein agrees. “Crisis phone and text lines are incredible and do important work to get people off that edge and to a place of safety, but I would also like to work five steps back. Are we really being kind to each other? Are we really listening to each other? Do we really make mental health a priority?” she asked.

They also agreed that one of the best ways to prevent suicide is by breaking the silence that surrounds it, and this can only happen by having open and honest conversations about depression, addiction and mental health. Central Wyoming Counseling Center (CWCC), Casper College and other partnering sponsors are trying to spark that conversation by bringing a screening of Klein’s new documentary, The S Word, to Casper Tuesday, Feb. 13.

“This movie isn’t a PowerPoint presentation on suicide. It’s a human story that connects human beings. And with human beings, there’s humor. This is the funniest film I’ve ever seen about suicide,” Klein said.

Wheeler Concert Hall at Casper College will host the free screening as part of a full night of dialogue on suicide prevention. Representatives from CWCC and other organizations will participate in a community suicide prevention resource fair beginning at 5:00 p.m., the film premieres at 6:00, and a question and answer session with Klein and Craig Miller, a suicide attempt survivor featured in the movie, will immediately follow.

“This movie normalizes suicide, and that’s the most important thing we can do. We need a cultural change in the the way we speak about it. It needs to be a mainstream topic, like we talk about cancer. Humanizing suicide and mental health the way this movie does is how we get there,” Craig said.

And because suicide is so prevailing in Wyoming, Theobald believes that everyone in our state can benefit from this film.

“It’s a message of hope and coping. It acknowledges the reality of suicide — both for those who died from it as well as their families. But it’s about rebuilding your life. How do I keep living everyday, even if I get really low? The focus of this film is about people coming back from that edge. And we’ll all gain more awareness and understanding from it,” she said. For more information on the event, contact Theobald at 307.268.2255. For more information on the film, visit theswordmovie.com.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, the best thing you can do is talk about it. Central Wyoming Counseling Center wants to be part of the solution, so call 307.237.9583 to learn more. Together, hope can conquer the silence.

HOW MENTAL HEALTH CAN MAKE YOUR 2018 RESOLUTIONS A REALITY

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Mental wellness is one of the most critical but most overlooked aspects of our physiology, which is largely a result of widespread societal misunderstanding of mental health.

Every January marks the opportunity for a fresh start: new year, new you. It’s the time when we promise ourselves that we will be healthier than we were the year before: we’re getting rid of that stubborn extra 20 pounds and hitting the gym after Feb. 1. But if your 2019 resolution is the same one you made unsuccessfully in 2018 (and in 2017 and in 2016), maybe this year ask yourself why you haven’t been able to achieve your goals. Maybe your annual failed commitment to physical health can be attributed to something less obvious than a waistline — your mental health.

“A lot of people think, ‘I don’t need to see a counselor because I’m not crazy,’ but seeking mental health services doesn’t mean that you’re crazy,” Central Wyoming Counseling Center Open Access Coordinator Kat Shumway said. It’s actually very rational, and she’s hoping that it’s a mindset that all of Wyoming can adopt.

Shumway likens Central’s services to those of a traditional primary care doctor. We don’t just go see them when we’re sick; we also need regular check-ups to make sure that we’re healthy and our bodies are functioning properly. In addition to offering peace of mind, these routine visits will identify and address problems before they get unmanageable, so that when there is something wrong, you already have a doctor ready to find the best solution for you. Mental health is no different.

“Everyone should have annual check-ups. So often when people experience depression or anxiety, it just becomes part of the norm, but it’s actually unusual and unhealthy. Most of us don’t even realize that we’ve undergone any sort of change and just accept this new ‘normal,’ so we don’t even know there’s a problem,” Shumway said.

Conditions like depression and anxiety tend to be subjective and vary from person to person. This lack of uniform manifestation is one of the leading contributors to our misconceptions about mental health. Some symptoms include but are not limited to changes in sleep, appetite or routine as well as low interest in doing things or motivation to participate. Shumway stresses that it’s not normal to regularly think about how it would be better to not be here anymore, even if those ideations aren’t necessarily suicidal. Hopelessness isn’t a typical experience. Seemingly ordinary or small maladies like these can escalate into debilitating illness, like losing the ability to function, incapacity to enjoy life or suicidal thoughts and actions, which is why early detection and treatment is so critical.

Whether your 2019 resolution is to hit the gym three times a week, quit smoking, earn a promotion or be a better dad, a visit to Central could be your best first step. Shumway says the easiest way to get started is during Open Access hours Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 9:00-11:00 a.m. or Tuesdays and Thursdays from 2:00-4:00 p.m. You’ll fill out a questionnaire, then meet with a professional to develop a plan on how they can best serve you moving forward. Central actively works with patients to find financial solutions for treatment including sliding fee scales and accepts insurance. If possible, bring proof of income to your first Open Access visit. No appointment is necessary.

Similar to your annual check-in with your primary doctor, not everyone will qualify for a diagnosis from their mental health professional. There is a “normal” amount of stress, but someone’s mental health depends on how that individual responds to it. And isn’t it a good idea to know where you stand?

“We’re here to support you through family stress, relationship stress, professional stress. Our job is to make sure that the people we work with are empowered to live their best lives,” Shumway said.

To learn more, visit Central during Open Access or call Kat directly at 237.9583.

MAY IS NATIONAL FOSTER CARE MONTH

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With more than 400,000 children in foster care, May is a month set aside to honor parents and community members that have been actively involved in caring for those children in need. To learn more about National Foster Care month you can visit www.childwelfare.gov. Central has been providing foster care services for many years. We have partnered with families to serve Natrona county, but our work is not done, as it is our mission to lead Wyoming in behavioral healthcare through collaboration, stewardship and compassion, our foster care services are essential to fulfilling our mission.

According to recent data from Adoption and Foster Care Analysis and Reporting System (AFCARS), nearly 40% of children needing foster care are 5 years old or under. These are critical developmental years for children to be placed in caring homes.

SexAgeRace
52% male48% female39% 5 years old or under23% 6 to 10 years old22% 11 to 15 years old16% 16 to 20 years old2% American Indian/Alaskan Native1% Asian24% Black or African American0% (525) Native Hawaiian/Other Pacific Islander22% Hispanic (of any race)42% White3% Unknown/Unable to Determine7% Two or more Races

Central offers Therapeutic Foster Care (TFC) for children that are not able to live with their biological parents. On June 5 at 5:30, Central will host a meet and greet for potential foster families to meet current foster families and clinician staff in the TFC program. Families interested in learning more about our Therapeutic Foster Care program will receive information and tour our facility.

To hear from some of our current foster parents, please watch the video below.

CELEBRATE A MOMENT OF LAUGHTER

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On April 14th, International Moment of Laughter Day, we at Central are taking a moment to celebrate the healing and relaxing power of laughter. The International Moment of Laughter Day is the unofficial holiday created by humorologist Izzy Gesell, so put a smile on, grab a friend, or loved one and just laugh.

While we are taking a moment to laugh, it’s important to fully understand the health benefits found in laughing. So, like all great blog reads, we’ve assembled a list of the top 5 health benefits of laughter.

  1. Stress relief – We all go through stressful life circumstances, both in and out of our control. These circumstances can create, physical and mental conditions that lead to exhaustion and burnout. Regardless of circumstance, take a moment and laugh. Laughing stimulates circulation, which leads to a physical feeling of relaxation.
  2. Attitude adjustment – Ever heard the phrase “attitude is everything”? When you wake-up on the wrong side of the bed, try laughing. As we laugh, the body takes in oxygen-rich air that stimulates organs and increases endorphins leading to a feel good sensation.
  3. Increased connection with others – Much of our capacity to take on life’s challenges depends on the quality of our relationships. Laughing with someone creates an immediate bond by establishing a positive emotional climate and sense of connection.
  4. Physical health benefits – Make laughter part of your workout routine. Laughter has a positive impact on your physical health. When you laugh more oxygen reaches the brain and vital organs, blood pressure lowers and stress on your heart is reduced.
  5. Coping mechanism – Laugh at the stuff life throws at you. Using laughter to cope with difficult circumstances is not uncommon. However, too often we get caught up in the heat of the moment and don’t take advantage of our built in coping mechanisms. After a good laugh your heart rate and blood pressure drop below normal, sending your body into a relaxed state and subconsciously your mind starts to think that circumstances are more manageable.

Celebrate with us and on April 14th and take a moment to laugh. Or, if you are feeling ambitious, make it a part of your daily routine. You won’t regret it.

FAMILY STORIES: THERAPEUTIC FOSTER CARE

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Every child deserves a safe and caring home. For children suffering from behavioral or emotional distress it’s even more critical. Therapeutic Foster Care provides children with the intensive support needed to help them overcome their circumstances.

Central’s Therapeutic Foster Care program, part of our Youth and Family Services, is designed for children who are not able to live with their biological family. This program provides treatment in a family setting to promote healthy family dynamics and relationships.

Being a foster parent can be a challenging yet rewarding experience, and there are many reasons that families decide to foster children. Perhaps the most common is a genuine care and desire to help a child succeed in life. In the video below, you’ll hear from some of the families that share this desire.

BUILDING THE FUTURE TOGETHER

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Recently here in Wyoming it has not been “business as usual.” The best examples of this include new and strengthened collaborations. Casper’s mental health service providers are teaming up to secure access to all levels of care needed by individuals who are in crisis. These organizations have historically worked together for the benefit of clients and now they are concentrating on providing and promoting the best community care. This commitment to services is something that we are seeing throughout the community.

Joe Gallagher, Wyoming Behavioral Institute’s CEO, says he and Central Wyoming Counseling Center’s CEO, Brandon Wardell, have mapped out the best route toward helping people with mental illness who most of- ten find themselves in the emergency room. “None of what is happening in Casper right now would be possible without collaboration,” Gallagher says. “Wyoming Medical Center, the Natrona County Attorney’s Office, law enforcement Crisis Intervention team coordinators and the Community Health Center of Central Wyoming are also members of the  system of care we are building here.”

Wyoming Behavioral Institute offers adult medical detox and acute care for children, adolescents, and adults. Residential treatment also is available for children and adolescents. Central is adding crisis stabilization beds and subacute care for people who do not meet criteria for admission to Wyoming Behavioral Institute but are not ready to go home.

“Casper has excellent inpatient care available for people in crisis,” says Gallagher. “But there hasn’t been anything else available for people who need 24 hour support that’s less intensive than what a hospital can offer. Central Wyoming Counseling Center is bridging that divide.”

“This collaboration allows each of us to be more efficient and effective by leveraging the economy of scale. With each of us focusing on our role and our core strengths we will be able to accommodate more clients with the services they need most,” highlighted Wardell.

Recently, Central was designated as the “gatekeeper” by the Wyoming Department of Health and as the treatment provider for Directed Outpatient Commitment (DOC) clients. Funding was made available to establish less restrictive options for individuals experiencing a mental health crisis and intensive case management services. This, with the strengthened partnerships with Wyoming Medical Center and Wyoming Behavioral Institute, has made it possible for Central Wyoming Counseling Center’s Behavioral Intervention Team (BIT) to access individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.

Some of the new, less restrictive services coming soon are:

  • SDU- Social Detox Unit (Under Construction)
  • SAP- Supportive  Apartment  Program  (Opening March 1st)

Wardell adds, “The best thing to come from all of this is the “no wrong door concept.” If someone in Natrona County has a behavioral health issue/incident, they are going to get help. And not just any help, they will get the correct level of help. This process makes accessing the correct services seamless. The consumer will not need to know how to navigate multiple systems of care.  We have adapted our processes to client needs, when and where needed. It also eliminates duplication of care, so clients can more easily move from one level of care to another without having to ‘start the process over.’”