Let's Talk About Mental Health with HAP Expert Buff Donovan

Do you know someone who can’t quite handle their responsibilities or relationships? Do you struggle to get through a day?

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Buff Donovan, HAP's director of Coordinated Behavioral Health Management.
Either way, you’re not alone, says Buff Donovan, HAP’s director of Coordinated Behavioral Health Management.

Mental health (also called behavioral health) is the foundation for our thoughts, actions and relationships. When someone’s struggles with them affect their day-to-day life, that’s mental illness. Approximately one in five U.S. adults experience some kind of mental illness in any year.

“It’s much more common than not,” says Donovan. “It’s just that we don’t talk about it like we talk about other things. I think that’s beginning to change.”

Because misconceptions about mental illness often prevent people from seeking help, Mental Health Awareness Month is a great time to ask Buff to answer some questions.

What’s “normal”?

“Negative emotions are part of who we are. When someone passes away, you’re going to feel sad. Sadness doesn’t equal depression. Depression is a longer-term emotion and it is not necessarily based on a situation. People’s emotions go up and down. It’s when you’re struggling to function that you need additional help.”

Is mental illness a family problem?

“People who have a family history of mental illness are definitely more likely to experience mental health issues,” says Donovan.

A family is a system where all the parts are connected. Difficult family dynamics can cause or exacerbate mental health issues for a susceptible family member or for the entire family.

“No one lives in a vacuum,” says Donovan. “Everybody’s actions affect one another. If you live with someone, what you do day to day affects each other, no matter what it is.”

Why are so many teenagers having problems?

Donovan says technology and the ways teens interact socially are stressors. But one of the biggest stressors tends to be school and worries about their futures.

“Teens are struggling with the expectation to be perfect – you always have to get that A. There’s too much emphasis on academic performance. For the kids, it’s the pressure that everyone has to go to college – and that may not be what’s good for them,” says Donovan. She’s pleased to see vocational programs coming back and the trend may be away from expecting all high schoolers to go to college.

Can someone just “snap out of it”?

“Some people don’t know how to pull up the bootstraps – they need help doing that. Sometimes people need support and they don’t know where to go for it. And they need to learn skills that maybe they were never taught. That’s what therapy can help with,” says Donovan.

Can mental illness be cured?

Mental illness and substance abuse are health conditions. And, like most health conditions, they’re treatable. Some forms of mental illness are chronic conditions that can be managed, but are unlikely to go away. But, in many cases a treatment program that may include therapy, lifestyle changes, medication and support can help create permanent improvements.

What does therapy do?

“It’s not just laying on a couch talking. When you’re in therapy, you’re there to learn skills to be able to utilize on your own outside of therapy session, such as using “I” statements – taking responsibility for your own behavior, learning to listen to a person before responding, learning how to take a step back and look at the big picture, taking small pieces of what’s happening, breaking things down so you’re not overwhelmed, being truthful.”

What else helps?

“Good health requires a holistic approach,” says Donovan. “The mind and body are not separate.”

In addition to treatment, try:

Getting enough sleep - Research shows poor sleep can contribute to poor mental health, causing problems with mood, memory, attention and critical thinking.

Avoiding drugs and alcohol - Drugs and alcohol may provide temporary relief, but they interfere with the way the brain functions, worsening symptoms and lessening the brain’s ability to function normally over time.

Eating healthy - Avoid junk food and eat fresh foods like vegetables, beans and fish. These foods can boost brain function.

Mindfulness - Meditation, yoga and tai chi can help quiet repetitive negative thoughts, improve your mood and decrease anxiety and depression.

Exercise – Exercise can increase blood flow to the brain and help reduce stress and anxiety.

How can HAP help?

“There is help out there. You don’t have to suffer alone. There are many different types of treatments that someone can engage in. And there’s hope,” says Donovan.

Our Coordinated Behavioral Health Management team is here to help, including:

  • Finding the right specialist
  • Monitoring care during treatment
  • Ensuring correct medication
  • Finding support groups
  • Explaining behavioral health coverage

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Call (800) 444-5755 to talk to a member of our Coordinated Behavioral Health Management team. They’re available Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Categories: Get Healthy

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