How Nature Impacts Mental Health

Scientific research shows that the environment can help relieve stress, which later impacts our lifestyle positively. What you are hearing, seeing, or experiencing at any moment has a significant impact on how your nervous systems, immune system, and endocrine works. An unappealing environment can cause one to feel sad, helpless, and anxious. Feeling anxious increases blood pressure, muscle tension, heartbeat and suppresses the immune system.

Regardless of one’s age, social status, or culture, we all find nature pleasing. According to a recent survey, numerous people retreat to a natural setting whenever they feel stressed.

Here are the benefits of nature on mental health.

Nature Restores

Research shows that many people’s mood improves after spending time in nature. The outside environment can change one’s mood from stressed, depressed, and anxious to more balanced and calmer. Spending time in nature is associated with psychological wellbeing, positive mood, vitality, and meaningfulness.

Frequently viewing nature scenes elevates our ability to be attentive. The reason behind this argument is because humans find nature interesting. Time in nature allows our minds to rejuvenate, refreshing us for new explorations.

Nature Soothes

Scientists have proven that nature assists humans in dealing with pain. It is argued that our minds are naturally programmed to find plants, water bodies, trees, and other natural elements attractive. Therefore, these natural elements distract us from discomfort, pain, and anxiety.

Nature Heals

It is proven that viewing nature scenes reduces stress, fear, and anger and elevates pleasant feelings. Spending time in nature enhances physical wellbeing as well as emotional wellbeing. In turn, it reduces heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, and secretion of stress hormones. Research shows that even house plants can go a long way in reducing anxiety and stress.

Nature Connects

Nature can help us connect with other people. There is a large number of people who met each other when viewing nature scenes. In research conducted by the University of Illinois, people who lived in apartments with green spaces were found to care more about their neighbors, had a feeling of unity, and were more concerned about helping others than people who didn’t have trees and plants in their building. Additionally, natures equip people with the energy to deal with life demands.

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Taking Care of Mental Health in Quarantine

While the coronavirus pandemic shakes the world, we have all been ordered to social distance and stay quarantined. Being in quarantine greatly lowers a person’s chance of catching or spreading the virus. Although quarantine can greatly protect your health and the health of others, it can worsen someone’s mental health. 

Self-isolation during a pandemic can easily cause stress, insomnia, irritability, depression, and anxiety. However, there are a few ways to take care of your mental health while in quarantine:

Create a Daily Routine

Being a quarantine puts a major halt on the daily schedules and routines we have all become accustomed to. When stuck home all day, it can easily lead to someone feeling directionless when trying to fill all the hours of the day. To combat this, create a new routine to break up the day and add direction. If you are working from home, it’s important to treat it as a regular workday and hours the same way you would if you were in an office. When you have kids at home as well, make sure they are treating it as a regular school day. It doesn’t have to be a strict routine, just one that adds direction to your day.

Stay Active Throughout the Day

Many of us become guilty of binge-watching TV shows, sleeping in, and spending most of our time on the couch when being stuck inside all day. As relaxing as this is at first, this kind of behavior can lead to feelings of depression. When stuck inside for most of the day, it’s important to still be as active as possible. Do chores around the house, play with your kids, and get in some exercise through at-home workouts. Not only does this help with mental health, but it can also better your physical health. Whenever you are feeling bored, shut off the TV and put the device down to get more active.

Don’t Become Overwhelmed with Information

While it is important to stay informed on the coronavirus and have updated information, looking too much at the news and reading online stories is not good for anxiety. It is easy to become overwhelmed and start to panic when spending every minute of the day reading inaccurate or overly negative information. Instead, look to sources such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), World Health Organization (WHO), as well as state and local health departments. By relying on information from credible sources and checking updates once a day or so, it can keep you informed without negatively affecting your anxiety.

For more information, check out the New Horizon Counseling Center!

How Self-care Can Improve Teens’ Mental Health

Nowadays, there are countless articles encouraging adults to take care of their mental health in the workplace and to always find time to treat themselves with self-care. This is a major step forward in improving and prioritizing mental health. However, the younger generation, specifically teens, can be overlooked. 

They are at a time in their lives when schoolwork, social life, and home life can cause a major hindrance to their mental health. In order to help improve teens’ mental health, it’s important to prioritize self-care.

 

Eating Healthy

A healthy mind first begins with a healthy body. Parents and schools need to be encouraging healthy eating habits for teens. Teens are far more likely to spend their days eating whatever they want and not considering the repercussions of a junk food diet. When they eat better, they will start to feel better too. Studies confirm that a teen with an unhealthy diet is at risk for developing depression. In order to prevent this, encourage healthier eating. 

 

Prioritizing Sleep

Staying up late to watch television, finish schoolwork, or talk to friends can easily lead to teens not getting enough sleep. Many times this kind of habit can be bushed off and people believe that since they are young their body can handle it. On the contrary, teens not getting enough sleep can lead to damaging their mental health. It is recommended by the National Sleep Foundation that teens between the ages of 14 to 18 sleep eight to 10 hours a night. However, on average, most teens get about 7.5 hours of sleep a night. Sleep deprivation takes a toll on their mood and can lead to depressive symptoms.

 

Meditation

The younger you are, the faster you will go. Many teens do not take the time to slow down and get in touch with their own mental wellbeing. A teen will carry their daily stresses around with them without taking the time to unwind and relax. Instead of being mentally weighed down, meditation could be an excellent way to distress and improve mental health. It can even help with getting better sleep.

 

Taking Time for Hobbies

Studying and homework are very important and should be prioritized, but so should taking time to do the things you love. By partaking in activities that they truly enjoy doing, teens can greatly reduce anxiety and stress. It can be skateboarding, watching television, spending time with friends, or even sitting down to read a book. Parents should encourage their teens to take a break and indulge in what they love to do. This can make a major improvement in their mental health and a great way for teens to feel greater happiness.

Small Life Changes for Better Mental Health

When falling into the routine of our day-to-day lives, it’s easy to not to realize whether or not your mental health is taking precedence. After a while, your habits and way of life can start to affect your mood and make you feel depressed. In order to avoid that, it’s important to be put your mental health first. That means changing your life in just a few small ways in order to improve your mental health:

Healthy Eating and Exercise

The feeling of sadness and depression is often linked back to your diet. If you are putting unhealthy foods in your body and not getting regular exercise, your mood can have a significant decline. This is why it’s important to eat more healthy and start exercising more. This small change to your diet can improve your mental and physical health. Start by adding more fruits and vegetables. Focus on foods rich in polyphenols, like berries, tea, or dark chocolate, because this helps with brain function.

Get Your Sleep

Another small change that can have a big effect on improving your mental health is getting more sleep. Not many people are prioritizing getting their rest when they should. If you are not getting enough sleep, this can greatly put you in the risk of feeling depression or anxiety. It’s important to not only get enough sleep, but also quality sleep. To achieve quality sleep, try reducing your exposure to blue light from laptops and smartphones before going to sleep. 

Go Outside and See Nature

One of the greatest ways to improve your mental health is by simply stepping outside your front door. Get outside, take a walk, go for a run, or even a hike to immerse yourself in greenery. Studies have proven that seeing nature can have major effects on your mental health and improve mood. It can make you feel happier just by being out in the sunshine and soaking up the benefits of boosting vitamin D levels. 

Cut Out Negative Habits

The use of drugs and alcohol is one of the biggest components of mental health. Using drugs or drinking on the regular can quickly put you into a downward spiral. These substances can lead to a vicious cycle of addiction and make mental even worse. By cutting out these negative habits, you will see an incredible improvement in your mental health. Becoming a happier and mentally healthy person can be as easy as these small lifestyle changes.

Startups that Transform Behavioral Health

StartupHealth technology has become an exceedingly lucrative niche as of late. More and more technology companies are inventing ways to make healthcare easier and more accessible. This influx of startup companies focused on health technology, however, has recently shifted focus. Instead of starting businesses based on general physical health, there is now a large number of companies making technology focused on behavioral health. Unfortunately, Behavioral Healthcare in the United States has suffered as of late. It faces several internal and external issues that prevent behavioral health from becoming a medical priority. New startup companies are hoping to help. Below are two that look quite promising.

Quartet Health

A persistent issue in behavioral health today is the low level of access that behavioral health patients have to trained professionals. Quarter Health has created a comprehensive platform that includes patients, doctors, and insurers. Primary Care Physicians are able to refer patients to behavioral health professionals that work with the patient’s insurance through this platform, as well as to be updated on the progress of each patient. Behavioral Health professionals are able to communicate with the PCPs of their patients, as well as to accept or deny patient referrals with no risk. Additionally, they can use the platform’s billing and scheduling tools for their practice.

This platform is also used by insurers and employers in a number of ways. For one, it has tools that help determine whether or not someone is suffering from an undiagnosed behavioral health disorder. It also can help spread understanding of such disorders and the effects they have on behavior and performance. Patients are also given perks in this platform. They can take part in online treatment programs, communicate with health providers on a secure connection, and even talk to others suffering from the same conditions.

Akili Interactive

Akili is a different type of digital health company in that it works to build quality platforms with video-game-like qualities that can be remotely used by patients and physicians alike. These platforms will be used in a variety of ways, including to assess neural functioning in patients, as well as provide an interactive situation in which interventions can be put in place.

The platforms that Akili is developing fall into certain categories. The first is the group meant to improve neural functioning and cognitive systems. Another is cognitive measurement, which includes products that frequently assess the neural functioning of each patient.

For more information and behavioral health news, visit the New Horizon Counseling Center website.

Pokemon Go and Mental Health

PokemonThe newest craze to hit the digital sphere panders to the nostalgia of many. Pokemon Go is an augmented reality game that exists on an application on your phone. Its premise is ingenious – those with the app can walk around to ‘catch’ Pokemon in real-life places. All they have to do is point their phone camera at where the Pokemon is supposed to be, and it shows up on their screen, surrounded by the real world. Players use their touchscreens to throw Pokeballs and collect these critters. One of the great many features of the game is that it is built on a premise of walking. In order to run into Pokemon, hatch eggs, and find Pokemon gyms, players must get outside and wander around different neighborhoods. Soon after the game was released, many of those who downloaded it began to report an improvement in their mental health, catalyzed by Pokemon Go.

People have taken to platforms such as Twitter and Tumblr to express how the game has made strides in easing symptoms of depression and anxiety. They have reported that it has given them the motivation to get outside on days during which they feel like doing nothing at all. Additionally, Pokemon Go has been proven to be a great way to interact with strangers. Those with mental health issues find themselves not only walking around outside, but also socializing, which is important when dealing with mental illness.

Experts say that the game is also beneficial for mental health in that it allows people to take a break without indulging in common negative forms of escape. For example, many people, after a long workday, tend to go home or to a bar and have a drink to relax. This can lead to a reliance on alcohol when encountering everyday stressors. Pokemon Go has given its players a way to get their mind off of stressors that simply involves getting some exercise. Instead of having a drink, users are prowling the streets for rare Pokemon and getting a much-needed dose of sunshine.

Success stories are still pouring in on social platforms. One user reported that the game gave her a reason to spend the week outside interacting with friends, which, to her, was ‘unreal.’  Another stated that the game worked better for him than any therapy or medication that had been prescribed. A third tweeted that Pokemon Go actually made him want to go outside and interact with people, after having not had that urge for years. These are only a few example of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of accounts of the game helping a player ease their psychological struggle, even if only for a little bit.

Pokemon Go has unintentionally become a therapeutic app for so many people, and it is just getting started. This really speaks to the power of technology in helping people deal with the negative symptoms of mental illness. I am excited to see what other augmented reality games appear in the future, and the effect they will have on mental health.  

Discussing Mental Health at Work

WorkWhile the United States is slowly becoming more open about discussing mental health, there is still an underlying stigma that deters many with mental illnesses from talking openly about their experiences. This is doubly true in the workplace. Employers give their staff a select number of sick days in case of physical health problems such as the flu or a bad cold. Unfortunately, employees suffering from mental illness are hesitant to take sick days for their mental well-being. This is a real issue, especially since a recent study showed 18% of employees surveyed had experienced a mental health issue in the past month leading up to the study. Unlike a temporary physical illness, a mental health disorder can require time to go to therapy appointments, a need for a quieter workspace, or even alterations to a work schedule. It is important that people who suffer from mental illness know how to approach their employers with information about their condition and their needs.

Before speaking to anyone at work, it would be wise to speak about the decision with a mental health professional, like a therapist. This person can help you come up with talking points and direction, so you can go to work knowing exactly what you need. When addressing your direct manager, keep in mind the relationship you two have. If it is a close, more friendly relationship, feel free to be slightly more open about details. If, however, you do not feel comfortable revealing certain aspects of your mental illness, do not feel pressured to jeopardize your own privacy; you can be more vague with the details.

Also, it is important to be very clear about what you are hoping to get out of the conversation with your manager. If you need time in the middle of the day for a therapist appointment, for example, ask for a long lunch. It is important in this asking process to also inform your manager of how you will make up the work you miss when going to said appointment. Perhaps you can stay a bit later at work, or not take a lunch break the day following the appointment to catch up. Reassuring your manager that you will not fall behind will make them more willing to let you do what you need for your mental health.

It is important that you take advantage of company resources as well. If your company has, for example, an employee assistance program, you can get confidential help free of charge. Also, if you do not feel comfortable discussing issues with your direct manager, perhaps try asking HR for advice.

Most importantly of all, do not be afraid to take sick days for your mental health. Taking care of yourself mentally is as important as taking care of yourself physically. If you need to, take a sick day to relax and care for yourself so you can return to work rejuvenated.     

Value-Based Payment Systems

DoctorThe term ‘value-based payments’ is being thrown around a great deal in the behavioral health industry. It describes a new method of paying for healthcare that encourages providers to give each patient the best care possible. Currently, healthcare providers are paid for their services based on the number of patients they bring in the door, as opposed to the quality of care they provide. With value-based payments, providers are assessed on the care they give and are given incentives to improve their metrics. This system is currently being tested by a number of payers and providers, but it has not yet fully expanded to behavioral health.

Of course, the transition from fee-for-service payments to value-based payments has not been easy, and there are still many undetermined factors at play. The healthcare system has relied on a volume-based payment program for so long that the rough transition surprises no one. There was, initially, the issue of tracking performance. Metrics with which to measure the quality of a provider’s care had to be agreed upon. Currently, it looks as if many of the value-based programs are using inpatient quality reporting data. Part of the issue with expanding value-based payment programs to behavioral health is that quality may be more difficult to track in behavioral programs. Unfortunately, the measurement of metrics for value-based programs that are now present do not apply to behavioral health.

Another difficult transition is the shift in provider tracking. Instead of accounting for insurance companies and patients as if they are all the same, the care of all patients must be scrutinized individually. Providers have to compile evidence that they are meeting or exceeding standards for quality care at the lowest cost possible in order to get rewards for their hospital.

Despite the difficult transition from the old way of payment, it is speculated that a shift to value-based payment has the potential to improve the behavioral health industry as a whole. It will, for one, encourage behavioral health providers to give their patients quality, low cost care. Insurance companies typically do not offer reimbursement for mental health services, as they treat it as being separate from physical health services. Switching to a value-based program would change that. It would give insurance companies an incentive to cover more mental health services, a phenomenon that is woefully lacking today.

Overall, value-based payment systems are being heralded as the future of this country. They are looking to completely change the healthcare industry by focusing more on patient care that saves money in the long run by making sure there is less hospital readmission and costly care. While this is beneficial for medicine as a whole, it will have the biggest impact on behavioral health.

For more information, visit New Horizon Counseling Center.

 

Mental Health, Worldwide

HandsWhile mental health is an issue being pushed to the forefront of American culture, it is still not recognized everywhere in the world. Many societies refuse to believe in mental illness, and therefore shun anyone who exhibits signs of a disorder. Other places tend towards things like demonizing the suffering individual and hiding them away from their peers. It is an unfortunate practice, as those who need help are not getting it. This is especially true in underserved countries and for people like refugees. It is no wonder in such places that mental health professionals are hard to find, but it is in dire situations that such professionals are necessary. This is why the World Health Organization and the World Bank have decided to move mental health on to their global agenda.

The two groups recently met in Washington to discuss the state of mental health in the world, and realized that it was an untreated epidemic in many places. Refugee communities especially are suffering. People in such communities are forced to leave their homes, and tend to suffer from psychological distress as a result. Many refugees suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and anxiety. Mental health counseling would improve the quality of life immensely for individuals in such situations, yet nobody has thought to act on the fact until now.

Apparently, this recent decision by the World Health Organization and the World Bank came at the same time as a release of research on investment opportunities for depression and anxiety treatment programs. The research showed that investing in these programs could have a sizable return, making it a high gain investment without much risk involved. This conclusion is based on other worldwide treatments that have been successful in the past. A tool called OneHealth was used to estimate the cost and return.

Mental health has not been entirely absent from the developing world, however. In the past, individual groups have attempted to raise awareness of mental health to underserved populations. Mental health workers have traveled to countries ravaged by disease or natural disaster in an attempt to help the people in the midst of crisis. Individual aid groups have also developed treatment programs for women and men who have suffered some kind of sexual abuse. However, mental healthcare in developing countries has never been taken on by well-known health organizations. This could be a giant step forward for the mental health community worldwide.

While it is unclear how much this focus on mental health was spurred by a potential return on investments, spreading mental health care to refugee communities and developing countries is important. It will improve the quality of life all over the globe, and signifies another step toward eradicating the stigma surrounding mental illness for good.