Frank Saverino, LPC, LISAC, our Clinical Director at SpringBoard Recovery, recently gave a comprehensive and interesting interview around the important subject of mental health to Destry Jetton, from the popular local weekday TV program, “Arizona Midday.”
The expansive interview, broadcast on Arizona Midday as 4 separate episodes, and all featured here, covers a wide range of mental health topics, such as National Mental Health Awareness Month (this May), the various treatments and therapies now available, the nature and symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (in light of the forthcoming National PTSD Awareness Month during next month – June, 2021), wellbeing tips for everyone, and so on.
Frank Saverino, LPC, LISAC, Clinical Director, SpringBoard Recovery – Source: Arizona Midday
The interview took place at Hunkapi Farms, the 10-acre home of Hunkapi Equine Therapy – one of SpringBoard Recovery’s substance addiction and mental health therapies for disorders such as PTSD. Hunkapi Equine Therapy offers a number of programs, all with the same aim of using the bond between horse and human as a catalyst for positive growth in the lives of participants.
Hunkapi, their name derived from an old Lakota Native American tribal word which means “We are all related,” accepts clients with a wide range of diagnoses, including Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorder, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Emotional Disorder, Addiction & Substance Use Disorder (SUD), and PTSD, and more.
Mental Health & PTSD: Arizona Midday with SpringBoard Recovery – Episode 1
National Mental Health Awareness Month: May 2021
As we approach the end of May and this year’s National Mental Health Awareness Month, it is abundantly clear that this wide-ranging health topic will remain the primary focus for many healthcare policy decisions to come, from the federal government right down to county and state levels, as the U.S. attempts to get closure from the devastating socio-economic impacts of the coronavirus pandemic.
Currently, as of May 21, 2021, there have been over 33 million cases of coronavirus infection (33,137938, to be exact), with the number of fatalities tragically standing at 589,517. However, following vast improvements in the vaccine rollout with a change of U.S. government, daily cases have dropped by 38%, those hospitalized have dropped by 22%, and 15% fewer people are dying from the virus in the last 14 days.
Here in Arizona, these percentage rates are similar to that of the rest of the nation, as the U.S. reports that 39% of all U.S. citizens have now received their first vaccination, with 49% of these receiving their second dose, too.
As we have already seen, the effects of the pandemic have been unlike anything seen in the last 100 years. In fact, it is estimated that the worsening mental health of the U.S. population will take years and years to fully resolve, if ever at all.
Let’s not forget, either, that the pandemic is not over yet…
Yes, there is the oft-used, proverbial “light at the end of the tunnel,” but, until it no longer affects us on any level whatsoever, more and more will continue to succumb to mental health issues and the development of disorders.
Just like the coronavirus that brought all this personal and national social and economic devastation, no-one has been immune to the pandemic’s damage to our mental wellbeing either – damage that will be long-lasting, and which will have its own level of impactful effects, too, in the years to come.
Hunkapi Farms, the site of SpringBoard Recovery’s Equine Therapy – Source: Arizona Midday
COVID-19’s Dramatic Effect on Our Mental Health
In its recent Issue Brief: “The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use,” published in February 2021, KFF (the Kaiser Family Foundation), one the U.S.’s leading nonprofit health policy analysis and journalism organizations, reported on the full extent of the socio-economic fall-out of the pandemic in the U.S…. so far.
In summary, their analysis of the combined data from the Census Bureau’s ongoing “Household Pulse Survey” (as used by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention – CDC), their own KFF Health Tracking Poll data, and existing and trusted data on U.S. mental health prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, found increasing rates of mental health disorders and behavioral issues, substance use disorders (SUDs), and domestic violence throughout the country.
“Mental illness affects a lot of people. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Unfortunately, there’s still a stigma about it, but it’s so common. Most families have a least one person in their family that suffers from mental illness. I think if we could de-stigmatize it, more people would ask for help.” – Frank Saverino, LPC, LISAC, Clinical Director at SpringBoard Recovery
Here are their more notable findings covering the last 12 months prior to the end of January, 2021:
- Adults (Aged 24+): Around 4 in 10 adults in the U.S. reported clear symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder, while many reported specific impacts, such as:
- Difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%)
- Increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%), and
- Worsening chronic medical conditions (12%)
- Young Adults (Aged 18-24): 56% of young adults reported symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder. They also reported more substance use (25% vs. 13%) and suicidal thoughts (26% vs. 11%) compared to those aged over 24 years of age
- Recently Unemployed: Adults in households with job loss or lower incomes reported higher rates of mental health issues than those without job or income loss (53% vs. 32%)
- Parents & Dependent Children: Mothers were more likely to report symptoms of anxiety and/or depressive disorder than fathers (49% vs. 40%); generally, prior to, and during, the pandemic, women reported higher rates of anxiety and depression than men
- Communities of Color: Non-Hispanic Black adults (48%) and Hispanic or Latino adults (46%) reported more anxiety and/or depressive disorder symptoms than Non-Hispanic White adults (41%)
- Essential Workers: Compared to non-essential workers, essential workers reported more anxiety or depressive disorder symptoms (42% vs. 30%), started/increased their substance use (25% vs. 11%), and suicidal ideation, or thoughts of suicide (22% vs. 8%) during the pandemic
Mental Health & PTSD: Arizona Midday with SpringBoard Recovery – Episode 2
What is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)?
Post-traumatic stress disorder, now universally shortened to PTSD, is a mental health disorder that can develop after an individual witnesses or experiences a life-threatening event, such as a natural disaster, military combat, a serious car accident, or sexual assault.
Known by many names in the past, like “shell shock” during the years of World War I and “combat fatigue” after World War II, PTSD is not a “military” disorder. It does not just happen to combat veterans. PTSD can occur in anyone, regardless of ethnicity, nationality, or culture, and at any age.
Let’s repeat that. Anyone can develop PTSD following serious trauma. For them, their normal reality feels like it has been fundamentally altered, and the world suddenly feels unsafe.
Those who do experience trauma often recover over the following few weeks, and the more normal symptoms, such as upsetting memories, the feeling of being “on edge,” and having difficulty sleeping, normally subside gradually during this time. However, for some individuals, these strong feelings and emotions do not subside, or if they do, they return sporadically – without warning and just as strongly.
“PTSD is obviously associated with someone who has had some trauma in their life, like childhood trauma or witnessing a traumatic event, and then having lingering symptoms that can last a really long time – being hypervigilant, re-experiencing the trauma, going into a fight-or-flight mode, having nightmares, anxiety, and that can last a long time if left untreated.” – Frank Saverino, LPC, LISAC, Clinical Director at SpringBoard Recovery
Mental Health & PTSD: Arizona Midday with SpringBoard Recovery – Episode 3
PTSD Can Affect Anyone: Who is at Higher Risk?
Every year, PTSD affects around 3.5% of U.S. adults, and around 1 in 11 people will be diagnosed with PTSD during their lifetime. Although no one is immune to the effects of trauma, the development of PTSD is twice as likely in women. Additionally, Latinos, African-Americans, and Native Americans have higher rates of PTSD than non-Latino whites.
Furthermore, an individual is at more risk of PTSD if the traumatic event they experience is extremely intense or long-lasting, and if they sustain a serious injury because of the event – this is why PTSD is also more common with trauma emanating from military combat and sexual assault. Lastly, stress can also make PTSD more likely, whereas strong social support can make it less likely.
Common PTSD Symptoms in Adults
PTSD symptoms will usually begin soon after the trauma has occurred, but sometimes they may not appear until months or even years later. Each individual will experience the symptoms in their own way. If the symptoms last longer than 4 weeks, cause distress, or interfere with work or home life, PTSD may well be the cause. There are 4 distinct groups or types of PTSD symptoms:
- Reliving the Event (also called Re-experiencing Symptoms): Memories of the traumatic event occur at any time, and individuals experience the same levels of fear as at the time of the event; for example:
- Flashbacks (as if the trauma is happening again)
- Sensory triggers, such as sights, sounds and smells
- Avoiding Situations: Places, activities and people can also remind individuals of the event; for example:
- Avoiding crowds, because they feel unsafe
- Avoiding driving if the trauma involved a car crash
- Avoiding movies that show similar traumas
- Avoiding discussions and seeking help
- Hyperarousal: A constant feeling of alertness or feeling on edge; for example:
- Difficulty sleeping
- Cognitive / concentration issues
- Being easily startled
- Negative Changes in Beliefs: Trauma can also cause a change of fundamental beliefs. This is a multifaceted group of symptoms; for example, they can range from:
- Unable to have positive or loving feelings toward other people
- Unable to have relationships
- Memory loss about the details of the trauma
- Believing that the world is now unsafe and dangerous, and everyone is untrustworthy
Common PTSD Symptoms in Children
Children with PTSD can have the symptoms described above or other symptoms depending on age. As children get older, their symptoms adapt to be more like those described above. Common PTSD symptoms in children include:
- Children under 6:
- Getting upset if their parents are away from them
- Difficulty sleeping
- Acting out the trauma through play
- Children aged 7 to 11:
- Acting out the trauma through play, drawings, or stories
- Irritability and/or aggression
- Desire to avoid school
- Difficulty with schoolwork or friends
- Children aged 12-18:
- Similar symptoms to adults, eg. depression, anxiety, social withdrawal, or reckless behavior, such as substance abuse, truancy, or running away
“People just need to pick up the phone. It’s the scariest thing, but once you get past that, everything tends to get easier and better. I say call anybody – call your primary care physician, call a counselor, call your insurance company and get a referral, call SpringBoard… There are a lot of resources out there. I really think ‘just call somebody.’ ” – Frank Saverino, LPC, LISAC, our Clinical Director at SpringBoard Recovery
What Treatments are Available for PTSD?
There are several evidence-based treatment options for PTSD. For many individuals, these treatments can resolve all of their symptoms. Others find they have fewer symptoms or their symptoms are less intense. With PTSD, it is important to remember that “Recovery” can mean different things for different people.
Primarily, there are 2 main types of treatment, and they are usually combined for treatment purposes. These are:
- Psychotherapy: Often called counseling or talk therapy, and
- Pharmacotherapy: The use of prescription medications to alleviate symptoms
Psychotherapy for PTSD
Trauma-focused psychotherapy is the most effective treatment for PTSD, and includes the following therapies:
- Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR): Focusing on sounds, lights or hand movements while talking about the trauma
- Accelerated Resolution Therapy (ART): Restoring connections within the brain to resolve trauma
- Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT): Learning skills to understand how trauma changed beliefs and emotions
Pharmacotherapy for PTSD
Specifically, SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and SNRIs (serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors), primarily used for depression, are also beneficial for PTSD. These groups include sertraline, paroxetine, fluoxetine, and venlafaxine.
Mental Health & PTSD: Arizona Midday with SpringBoard Recovery – Episode 4
National PTSD Awareness Month: June 2021
As we move from May into June, we also move from National Mental Health Awareness Month into National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month, intended to raise public awareness about the many issues related to PTSD, reduce the stigma associated with the disorder, and help ensure that those suffering from PTSD receive appropriate treatment.
Additionally, Sunday, June 27, 2021, is National PTSD Awareness Day.
The idea of a National PTSD Awareness Month came about in 2010 when Senator Kent Conrad pushed to get official recognition of PTSD via a “day of awareness” in tribute to a North Dakota National Guard member who sadly took his life following 2 tours in Iraq.
Staff Sergeant Joe Biel died in 2007 after suffering from PTSD – he committed suicide soon after his return from duty. June 27, the date of SSgt. Biel’s birthday was selected as the official date for National PTSD Awareness Day, an event now observed every year. Soon after, in 2014, the Senate designated the full month of June for National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Awareness Month.
PTSD Awareness Month: Downloadable Graphics for Social Media – Source: PTSD Awareness Month, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs
“We can’t always prevent mental illness, but having a healthy lifestyle, eating well, sleeping well, taking care of our physical bodies, spiritual, social, not doing things that are harmful to us, like not doing drugs or drinking too much. These will help to ward off some of the mental health issues that do come up.” – Frank Saverino, LPC, LISAC, Clinical Director at SpringBoard Recovery
- Arizona Midday, Arizona local television channel. May 2021. Available at 12News.com/Arizona-Midday.
- National Mental Health Awareness Month, Mental Health America (MHA). May 2021. Available at MHANational.org.
- National PTSD Awareness Month, U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. May 2021. Available at PTSD.VA.gov.
- Hunkapi Equine Therapy. May 2021. Available at Hunkapi.org.
- Episode 1: Mental Health & PTSD – Arizona Midday with SpringBoard Recovery. May 2021. Available at Youtube.com.
- KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation): Issue Brief: “The Implications of COVID-19 for Mental Health and Substance Use.” February 10, 2021. Available at KFF.org.
- Household Pulse Survey, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC). 2021. Available at CDC.gov.
- Episode 2: Mental Health & PTSD – Arizona Midday with SpringBoard Recovery. May 2021. Available at Youtube.com.
- Episode 3: Mental Health & PTSD – Arizona Midday with SpringBoard Recovery. May 2021. Available at Youtube.com.
- Episode 4: Mental Health & PTSD – Arizona Midday with SpringBoard Recovery. May 2021. Available at Youtube.com.
- National PTSD Awareness Day, Military Benefits. May 2021. Available at MilitaryBenefits.info.