Explore the Blog Explore Blog

Now Viewing: Mental and Emotional Well-Being

Some Unconventional Approaches to Stress: Pioneering Ideas Podcast Episode 7

Jan 29, 2015, 7:00 PM, Posted by Lori Melichar

A man asking for money on the subway this week told me how Hurricane Sandy led to a series of events that left him stressed out by the challenges of putting food on the table for his children.

Recessions, hurricanes, violence—how many ways can we count that add stress to our lives? Whether dealing with economic stress, the stress of caring for an aging parent, or even the stress of keeping up with email, research shows that all of it affects our health. As Alexandra Drane, a guest in the latest episode of RWJF’s Pioneering Ideas podcast, puts it: “When life goes wrong, health goes wrong.”

This episode of the Pioneering Ideas podcast explores unconventional approaches to tackling stress­—and other health problems—with energizing possibilities that could also transform health and health care. From monitoring electricity use as a way of helping the elderly stay in their homes, to measuring the indirect health effects of social services (what if heating assistance led to greater medication adherence?), these conversations offer cutting-edge ideas for building a Culture of Health.

View full post

Caring for Patients Across Disciplines

Dec 3, 2014, 12:00 PM, Posted by Katherine Vickery

Katherine Diaz Vickery, MD, MSc, is an alumna of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Clinical Scholars program, an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School, and a clinician-investigator in the Division of General Internal Medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center. On December 5, she will be a panelist when RWJF holds its first Scholars Forum: Disparities, Resilience, and Building a Culture of Health. Learn more.

Katherine Vickery Katherine Diaz Vickery, MD, MSc

People who know me–even just a little–know of my pride for my home state of Minnesota. While there are beautiful lakes, biking trails, farmer’s markets, and a ridiculous state fair (that takes special pride in its offerings of various types of food-on-a-stick), there’s something more... Minnesota has been making strategic efforts to improve the health of its communities for many years.

Scholars Forum 2014 Logo

If I could bring you to Minnesota today (bundle up!), I’d show you what I mean by taking you to Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) and specifically to a meeting of the patient advisory board of the Hennepin Health Accountable Care Organization (ACO).

I would introduce you to Jorge, a Mexican-American whose road to recovery from severe depression was paved by his multi-disciplinary care team from Hennepin Health. Jorge might tell you about Susan, the social worker who helped him find transitional housing. Or Lucky, a community health worker who gave him a voucher to get a haircut, a toiletry bag, and helped him find a primary care medical home. And if he really opened up, he might tell you of his career aspirations to take courses to supplement his graduate degree from Mexico and become a family therapist or community health worker. 

View full post

Addressing the Needs of Female Veterans Who Have Experienced Violence and Harassment

Nov 13, 2014, 1:00 PM, Posted by Angela Amar, Jacquelyn Campbell

Jacquelyn Campbell, PhD, RN, FAAN, is director of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Nurse Faculty Scholars program and Anna D. Wolf chair and professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing.  Angela Amar, PhD, RN, FAAN, is an associate professor at the Nell Hodgson Woodruff School of Nursing at Emory University and an alumna of the RWJF Nurse Faculty Scholars program.

Jacquelyn Campbell Jacquelyn Campbell

As two scholars who have worked in research, practice and policy arenas around issues of gender-based violence for years, we honor our veterans this week by paying tribute to the Pentagon and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) for addressing intimate partner and sexual violence among active duty and returning military and their families, and urge continued system-wide involvement and innovative solutions.  

In our work, we’ve heard outrageous, painful stories. One female servicemember explained to Angela why she was ignoring the sexual harassment she experienced. She knew that hearing that she was inferior because she was a woman, being called “Kitty” instead of her name, and having the number 69 used in place of any relevant number was harassing. She knew it was wrong. But she had decided that she would not let it bother her. I can acknowledge that he is a jerk, but I can’t let that affect me.  

Angela Amar Angela Amar

I can’t let his behavior define me as a person. On some level this may seem like an accurate way of dealing with a problem person. However, sexual harassment isn’t just about one obnoxious person. Not telling the story doesn’t make the behavior go away. Rather, it sends the message that the behavior is acceptable and that sexist comments are a normal part of the lexicon of male/female interactions.

View full post

Improving Mental Health Care for Veterans is Vital

Nov 12, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by Ilse Wiechers

Ilse Wiechers, MD, MPP, MHS is associate director at the Northeast Program Evaluation Center in the Office of Mental Health Operations of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs and faculty with the Yale Geriatric Psychiatry Fellowship. She is an alumna of the Yale Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF)/VA Clinical Scholars Program (2012-2014).

Ilse Wiechers

Health and disease are on a continuum.  We are at a point in time where we are trying to understand the constituents of health, whereas historically our focus has been on understanding disease. It is important to recognize that veterans have unique determinants of health not shared with the rest of the population, such as exposure to combat and prolonged time spent away from social support networks during deployment.

These exposures can put veterans at increased risk for mental health problems, such as posttraumatic stress disorder, depression, and substance use problems. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) has a health care system uniquely positioned to help improve the overall health of veterans because of its expertise in addressing these unique mental health needs.

I have the privilege to serve our nation’s veterans through my work as a geriatric psychiatrist conducting program evaluation for the Office of Mental Health Operations (OMHO) at the VA. My work provides me an opportunity to directly participate in several of the key components of the comprehensive mental health services the VA provides for veterans.

View full post

To Honor Our Returning Veterans, We Must Address Their Family Needs

Nov 10, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by Tova Walsh

Tova Walsh, PhD, MSW, is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholar at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Her research focuses on the role expectant and new fathers play in the health and well-being of their partners and children, and the influence of parenthood on men's health and well-being. Walsh has used interview, focus group and survey data to examine the experiences of service members returning to family life after deployment.

Tova Walsh (Veterans Day)

On Veterans Day, we honor the service and sacrifice of U.S. military veterans.  Recognizing that it is not just the individual who serves our country, but his or her entire family, we honor, too, our military families, whose support is essential for our servicemen and women to carry out their duties.

When a service member deploys, partners, children and other family members re-organize their lives to accommodate the physical absence of a loved one. They live each day bearing the burden of separation. When their deployed loved one returns home, they share not only in the joy of long-awaited reunion, but also in the joy and challenges of the extended process of the veteran’s reintegration to home, family and community. The youngest members of our military families are least able to understand or express the impact of these experiences, and yet are deeply affected by these transitions and the accompanying shifts in emotions on the part of the adults who they depend upon for care, love and security.

View full post

Mental Health Challenges of Hurricane Sandy’s Aftermath

Oct 29, 2014, 8:31 AM, Posted by Vicki Philips

Hurricane Sandy - Shore Tour Driftwood Cabana Club, Sea Bright, N.J.

On her 90th birthday, instead of celebrating, Dottie (whose last name is withheld for privacy) lost her home in Superstorm Sandy. Two years later, she is still displaced, living in temporary rentals.

Dottie’s nephew is trying to change that. He’s been rebuilding Dottie's home. Like so many New Jersey residents, he says he’s going to keep at it until reconstruction is complete. Meanwhile, he’s getting some much needed support from groups like BrigStrong, the County Long Term Recovery Group, and the Mental Health Association in New Jersey (MHANJ).

It’s been two long years since Hurricane Sandy slammed into New Jersey on October 29, 2012. As a mental health worker, I still see the aftereffects firsthand.

For the past two years, the Mental Health Association in New Jersey (MHANJ), along with other local groups, has been on the front lines of the battle to maintain the mental health of Jersey Shore residents. Thanks to a major RWJF grant, MHANJ has been able to leave the county in a better position to deal with the next disaster:

  • We’ve given mental health first aid training to city employees who, in their daily work, encounter community members with mental health issues.
  • Through our Certified Recovery Support Practitioner program, we’ve improved our ability to reach out to the most vulnerable. Many community members certified through the program have faced mental health challenges themselves, which only increases their credibility.
  • We counseled populations with mental health issues on how to safely evacuate or shelter in place, thus ensuring that first responders will be safer in future emergencies.

View full post

Let’s Talk About Stress

Oct 2, 2014, 9:52 AM, Posted by Michael Painter

Mike Painter Mike Painter speaking at Health 2.0.

I recently returned from the Health 2.0 conference in California, which drew 2,000 health care innovators. One of the most popular Health 2.0 sessions was called “The Unmentionables”—where speakers discussed those important things that affect our health but we are often afraid to address. I participated in this year’s session where we talked stress—what it is and how it’s making us sick.

I’m an avid cyclist. That means I train a lot. Training on a bike means purposefully and intensely stressing your body—sometimes ridiculously hard—in order to make your body stronger, fitter and faster. In that sense stress can be really good. You can’t get stronger without it.

But here’s the key: as you ratchet up that stress—the miles, the hours on the bike, the intensity—you must work just as hard on the flipside, the buffering. The more you train, the more you have to focus on the rest, the sleep, your social supports, the yoga, the nutrition—whatever it takes.

If you don’t buffer you will burn out, get injured or sick, or all of the above. Without buffers, the stress will crush you.

View full post

Stress: Withstanding the Waves

Sep 23, 2014, 11:42 AM, Posted by Ari Kramer

Infographic: stress_section
Infographic: stress_section

Infographic: How Do We Move From a Culture of Stress to a Culture of Health?

View the full infographic

As a kid, when you went to the beach, did you ever play that game where you’d wade into the ocean and test your strength against the waves? You'd stand your ground or get knocked over, and after a few minutes, you'd head back to shore.

We didn’t realize it at the time, but as we felt those waves roll by, we were getting an early glimpse of the stresses of everyday life. The difference is, as adults we can't choose to stand up to just the small ones. And for the most part, going back to shore is not an option.

In a survey RWJF conducted with the Harvard School of Public Health and NPR, about half of the public reported experiencing a major stressful event in the past year. In more than four in 10 instances, people reported events related specifically to health. Many also reported feeling a lot of stress connected with jobs and finances, family situations, and responsibility in general.

Over time, those waves can take their toll. And when they become overwhelming, they can truly wear us down, seriously affecting our both our physical and emotional health.

So how can we deal with these waves of stress? Certainly, there are proactive things we can all do help manage its effect on our lives—exercise, for example. At the same time, we’ve probably all experienced instances when we’d love nothing more than to get up early for a run or brisk walk—but don’t have the energy because stress kept us up at night. Or we may just be too tapped out from long hours, relationship struggles, caring for loved ones, etc., to spare the energy or the time.

If this sounds familiar, consider yourself human. Right next to you, whether at work, on the train, in your grocery store, is probably someone whose waves are similar to or bigger than your own. So at the same time as you try to manage your stress, ask yourself: What could be done to help others achieve a solid footing? In this ocean of ours, there’s never a shortage of opportunity to lend a helping hand.

Have an idea to help move from a culture of stress to a Culture of Health in the home, workplace or community? Please share below—we’d love to hear from you.

Shifting the Dialogue: Considering Ray Rice and Intimate Partner Abuse

Sep 17, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by Thema Bryant-Davis

Thema Bryant-Davis, PhD, is an associate professor of psychology at Pepperdine University and an associate editor of the journal Psychological Trauma. Bryant-Davis is a Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) New Connections grantee who studies the intersection of trauma and culture. 

Thema Bryant-Davis

The assault perpetrated by Ray Rice, which ended in him dragging his unconscious fiancé, Janay Palmer, off an elevator, has captured wide public attention. Unfortunately, most of the dialogue has focused on blaming and shaming Ms. Palmer and other victims of intimate partner violence for staying in abusive relationships. There has also been an attempt to build sympathy for the perpetrator by questioning whether Rice’s punishment, which went from suspension for two games to permanent dismissal from his team, was fair. The most important questions have received far less attention. Why do abusive partners like Ray Rice abuse their spouses? Why does the public support intimate partner abuse either directly with words and actions or indirectly with their silence? What are the consequences of intimate partner abuse? And how can we stop intimate partner violence?

Partner abuse is an action not caused by the victim’s behavior, substance use, mental illness, or biology (being male).  People choose to abuse their partners emotionally, physically, sexually, verbally and financially to exact control over the person and because they believe they have the right to do so.  

View full post

Changing the Culture of Health to Prevent Suicide

Sep 12, 2014, 9:00 AM, Posted by Alexander Tsai

Alexander Tsai, MD, PhD, is an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, a staff psychiatrist in the Massachusetts General Chester M. Pierce, MD Division of Global Psychiatry, and an honorary lecturer at the Mbarara University of Science and Technology in Uganda. He is an alumnus of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF) Health & Society Scholars program (2010-2012), and a member of the core faculty in the Health & Society Scholars program at Harvard University.

Alexander Tsai

When Robin Williams ended his life last month, his suicide sparked a raft of online and print commentary about the dangers of depression and the need to inject more resources into our mental health care system. I strongly agree with these sentiments. After all, as a psychiatrist at the Massachusetts General Hospital, I regularly speak with patients who have been diagnosed with depression or who are actively thinking about ending their lives.

But what if suicide prevention isn’t just about better screening, diagnosis and treatment of depression? What if there were a better way to go about preventing suicides?

It is undeniable that people with mental illnesses such as depression and bipolar disorder are at greater risk for suicidal thinking or suicide attempts. But not everyone with depression commits suicide, and not everyone who has committed suicide suffered from depression. In fact, even though depression is a strong predictor of suicidal thinking, it does not necessarily predict suicide attempts among those who have been thinking about suicide. Instead, among people who are actively thinking about suicide, the mental illnesses that most strongly predict suicide attempts are those characterized by anxiety, agitation and poor impulse control.

View full post