Connecting to Social Media, Disconnecting from Mental Health?

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Loneliness has been perceived as a problem that mostly affects older populations. However, a new Cigna study found that Americans, as a whole, are feeling lonely, with adolescents and young adults reporting the highest rates of loneliness.

So what’s behind this wave of isolation? While some people blame the younger generations’ fixation on social media, the current evidence is inconclusive, in part because social media has only recently become prominent, making it difficult to study its long-term effects.

What is certain is a lack of face-to-face interactions is connected to people’s feelings of loneliness.

Teens today spend more time with media than anything else in their lives. Even when they are spending time with other people, many are still using their phones. And studies have shown the more time someone spends on social media platforms and the more social sites they visit, the more likely they identify themselves as socially isolated.

Passively spending time on these platforms and not engaging with others online can also result in feelings of isolation.

A’nna Jurich serves as executive director of Gateway Carbondale, which offers a program for self-esteem-related issues among adolescent girls. Jurich runs through some of the online trends associated with loneliness and mental health:

Cyberbullying

The rise of social media has raised with it concerns about online bullying. According to research, cyberbullying is often related to low self-esteem, suicidal thoughts, frustration, and other emotional problems. Bullying can be dangerous, especially for adolescents who are undergoing a lot of change, and ongoing.

“There are a couple of issues with the social media trend for adolescents: one is that they do not have the ability to disengage from all of the input from others, be it peers or media,” Jurich elaborates. “For example, if they are being bullied at school, they go home and log in and, often, the torment continues. They don’t have that period of afternoon and overnight to process and disengage from the negative messages.”

The Comparison Trap

Social media is a highlight reel and no one sees the daily behind-the-scenes; however, it can be difficult to keep that in mind while scrolling through endless photographs and videos everyday.

“Much of what is on social media is not always reality, so kids are often feeling that they need to live up to other’s perfect life experiences or appearances,” Jurich says. “They don’t see the everyday stuff, just the fabulous, and it puts a lot of pressure on them.”

FOMO

Also weighing on today’s younger generations is the fear of missing out on things, also known as “FOMO.” Many people’s moods shift after seeing their friends via social media having a good time while they aren’t. This trend is particularly common in adolescents and young adults, and it can lead to feelings of loneliness, depression, and anxiety.

Online Community

Although social media facilitate certain issues, good can also come from these platforms.

“I think that social media could be a great way to reach kids who are isolated with symptoms of mental health by educating and starting positive conversations,” Jurich says. “Many of them would be more willing to say something online than they are in person. So hearing others’ stories and even sharing their own in that venue could be less intimidating and help them to reach out when they need it.”

Starting Conversations about Mental Health

 

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May marks Mental Health Month, a time dedicated to raising awareness and reducing stigma. To start our month-long conversation about mental health, we started asking some questions:

Who is affected by mental health disorders?

Millions of people in the United States alone deal with mental health disorders. Yet less than half receive help. Chances are you know someone with a mental illness or someone who is affected by a person struggling with a mental illness.

According to recent studies, adults between the ages of 18 to 25 make up the highest percentage of people struggling with mental illness, but compared to other age groups, they also report the lowest rates of seeking treatment.

Why don’t more people seek treatment for mental health?

One of the main hurdles preventing people from seeking necessary treatment is the stigma surrounding mental health. Many people feel their mental health is not as important as their physical health or feel ashamed or embarrassed to admit they have a mental problem. As a result, some ignore their mental health concerns while others try to treat their symptoms by themselves.

What are some signs of a mental health disorder?

The signs of each mental health disorder are unique to that disorder, but here are a few to look out for:

  • Extreme changes in mood and behavior
  • Changes in work or school performance
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Prolonged feelings of anger or sadness
  • Withdrawal from friends and family
  • Struggles with carrying out day-to-day tasks

What are some examples of mental health disorders?

Depression and anxiety are the two most prevalent mental health disorders in the United States; however, many Americans also live with obsessive compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and post-traumatic stress disorders, among others. The severity of mental health disorders also varies by individual.

Co-Occurring Substance Use Disorders

Nearly 80 percent of people with mental health disorders have substance use disorders. In an effort to cope with the symptoms from their mental health disorder, many people turn to drugs and alcohol. The most common substance people turn to for help is alcohol. However, alcohol and many other drugs can exacerbate symptoms.

How can we reduce stigma?

In the past few years, there has been a change in the conversation around mental health. Mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder, have garnered more attention due to more celebrities, such as Mariah Carey, sharing their battles. If we continue asking questions and normalizing conversations about mental illness, then we can continue investing in and improving treatment for mental health.

Where to Drop Off Unused Prescription Meds Near You

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Every year, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) partners with local agencies throughout the country to administer safe and responsible drop-off sites for prescription medications. This year’s National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is this Saturday, April 28.

Easy access to prescription drugs has played a major role in the current opioid crisis. A significant portion of these drugs come from someone’s own home or the home of someone they know. In addition, other methods of disposal, such as flushing down the toilet, have been deemed unsafe and hazardous to public health and safety.  This makes responsible disposal of drugs all the more important.

To find a drop-off site near you, click here:

Parents: How to Prepare for Prom

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It’s warming up (unless you’re in Chicago), finals are looming, bank statements are lowering, meaning one thing for high schoolers and their parents: prom.

For many, prom marks the end of high school and a transition into uncharted territory. Students may be leaving home for college, entering the workforce full-time, or struggling to figure out their next step, all of which may increase susceptibility to peer pressure and substance use. Studies show more than 75 percent of underage drinkers reported drinking in a group. And although adolescents and young adults drink less often than adults, they tend to binge drink, leading to consequences like visits to the emergency room or even death.

Gloom and doom aside, prom season can be fun; it can also an opportunity to start a conversation with your teens about substance use. Two of our Gateway experts, Aurora and Joliet’s Jim Scarpace and Lake County’s Karen Wolownik-Albert, share their tips for a safe prom:

Allow them to ask questions and be open to hearing their experiences with peers and even with drinking and using drugs. Help them understand the dangers and risks associated with using drugs and drinking, like the increased likelihood of unsafe sexual behaviors or victimization

  • Prepare them for what they may be exposed to on prom night.

Talk to your teen about the dangers of binge drinking and drunk driving or riding with an intoxicated driver. About a third of alcohol-related traffic deaths involving teens occur between April and June, the most popular months for prom. Try practicing their responses to different scenarios.

  • Establish a back-up plan.

Let your teen know they can call you immediately, regardless of the time or situation, and you will be willing to come get them. Develop a code word. Let them know they can text you instead of calling, if that is easier for them.

  • Figure out a structured and supervised post-prom event.

If this is not possible, be sure to meet or speak to the parents at any home where your teen may be hanging out after prom.

  • Do not provide alcohol to teenagers in your home.

Although it may seem safe, social hosting laws have established significant legal consequences for adults who allow alcohol or drug use in their home.

If your teen is struggling with substance use, be sure to express your support in overcoming the problem with them and reach out to professional resources and treatment.

If you’re a parent and have other questions about your children’s substance use or mental health, please contact us at Marketing@GatewayFoundation.org and we will work with our experts to answer them.

What Is Binge Drinking?

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What is binge drinking?
Binge drinking is the consumption of alcohol that raises a person’s blood alcohol concentration to 0.8 or above, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. For men, this usually takes five or more drinks in two hours, and for women, it usually takes four or more drinks. In contrast, the recommended amount of alcohol consumption for women is no more than one drink a day and no more than two for men.

Why is binge drinking dangerous?
Most people who binge drink do not have a substance use disorder. However, the consequences of binge drinking are still severe, and extended periods of binge drinking can lead to alcohol dependence.

There are a lot of health risks associated with alcohol consumption, such as an increased likelihood of contracting certain cancers and difficulty with memory and learning. With excessive alcohol consumption, additional risks such as unintentional injury like blackouts, alcoholic coma, and alcohol poisoning are higher than with moderate use.

Rates of violence, including domestic and sexual abuse, also increase when drinking is involved. An estimated 50 percent of sexual assaults involve alcohol.

For women, binge drinking additionally increases the likelihood of an unplanned or a difficult pregnancy.

How common is it?
Binge drinking typically evokes images of college students in fraternity houses and, in fact, young drinkers consume more than 90 percent of their alcohol by binge drinking.
However, they are not the only ones. One in six adults in the United States engages in binge drinking four times a month. Over 50 percent of those who binge drink are between the ages of 18 to 34. It is also most prevalent among men, as men are twice as likely as women to binge. However, in the past couple of years, studies show women have begun to close the gap in alcohol consumption.

What should I do if I am or someone I know is struggling with binge drinking?
Attempts to quit without professional help are mostly unsuccessful, and they can also be fatal. Seeking professional help is the safest and most reliable way to stop drinking

Spot Symptoms of the Other, High Functioning National Crisis

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The opioid crisis has been staking headlines across national and local media, but another substance has been quietly taking lives by the thousands for years: alcohol.

In 2016, more than an estimated 64,000 people died from drug overdose; meanwhile, an average of 88,000 have died from alcohol-related causes every year.

Alcohol use has been more normalized compared to other substance use. Because alcohol has become ingrained in mainstream American culture, it has become harder for people to distinguish between someone who enjoys having drinks in moderation and a person who is suffering from alcohol addiction. Further, the stereotype of an “alcoholic” at rock bottom who drinks all day and can’t hold a job does not reflect the vast majority of people living with alcohol use disorders.

One of those people could be your boss, who comes to work on time every morning, cleanly shaven and impeccably dressed, and finishes every task—then goes home and drinks bottles and bottles of beer. Or your neighbor down the street, who juggles raising kids and working a full-time job while never missing a single one of their games, but drinks an entire bottle of wine after putting them to bed.

The reality is that we all most likely know someone struggling with or affected by alcohol addiction. About 16 million people in the United States have alcohol use disorder, ranging from mild to severe. However, less than 15 percent of people receive any treatment.

Alcohol does not affect everyone the same way and every addiction story is different, but these 11 questions can help you distinguish whether enjoying drinks in moderation has turned into a problem:

1.) Are you drinking more alcohol, or for longer, than you originally intended?

2.) Are you having unsuccessful efforts to cut back or quit?

3.) Are you spending a lot of time drinking or recovering from the effects of drinking?

4.) Are you experiencing cravings for alcohol?

5.) Are you having issues with carrying our roles at home or at school or at work because of alcohol?

6.) Have you continued drinking even though it was causing problems with loved ones?

7.) Are you getting into dangerous situations (like driving intoxicated or having unsafe sex) while or after drinking?

8.) Have you continued to drink even after experience negative side effects, such as depression, anxiety, and memory blackouts?

9.) Have you stopped participating in activities that were once enjoyable and drink instead?

10.) Do you have to increase the amount of alcohol consumed to feel the same effects as before?

11.) Do you have withdrawal symptoms after the effects of alcohol wear off, including shaking, trouble sleeping, anxiety, depression, nausea, or restlessness?

There are three categories for severity of alcohol use disorder: mild, moderate, and severe. Even if you or someone you care about is experiencing a mild case—the presence of two to three symptoms—seek out professional help.

And this April, Alcohol Awareness Month, let’s all reconsider the use of alcohol in our lives.

Biting the Hands that Feed Each Other: Stress and Alcohol

Stressed businesswoman

Your boss wants the project on their desk first thing tomorrow morning. Your rent is due and you’re short, again. You forgot about your anniversary. It’s Monday.

When you finally get home, you have a drink or two to wind down, which isn’t necessarily a problem, not yet. According to Gateway Aurora Executive Director Jim Scarpace, stress-related drinking becomes a problem when someone starts relying on alcohol as a way to self-medicate, when alcohol becomes the only form of stress-relief.

To be clear, stress and anxiety are different from stress and anxiety disorders. We all experience stress and anxiety to a degree. Stress is sometimes even healthy. It tells our body and our brain to react to a threat. It can kick-start our body to fight off an infection or help us perform better under pressure. However, unmanaged and acute or long-term stress can damage our bodies and our minds.

Although alcohol in small doses acts like a stimulant, or a pick-me-up, alcohol is a depressant, meaning it lowers activity of the central nervous system; simply put, it relaxes us. If someone turns to the bottle time and time again under stress, however, they will likely develop an association between the two, a habit, and then a tolerance to its stress-alleviating properties. It will take more alcohol to feel the same level of relief, increasing vulnerability to addiction.

Despite alcohol’s ability to diminish stress, studies have shown it dually extends the negative experience of stressors and decreases alcohol’s positive effects. So the negative emotion associated with that project – still due tomorrow – may be even worse when you present it to your boss the next day.

People in recovery may need to overcome more hurdles to cope with stressors without the help of alcohol. Studies have also indicated people in recovery experience increased rates of relapse in the face of life stressors.

However, finding support and healthy coping mechanisms can reduce alcohol misuse, relapse rates, and stress levels.

Alternative ways to relieve stress:
– Exercise or go for a walk
– Laugh – at a video, TV show, or meme (here’s one to get you started)
– Listen to music
– Journal or craft
– Take a nap
– Spend time with pets or people you love

“If you’re struggling to stop using alcohol and not getting any relief from your coping mechanisms, then you really need to get support through medically assisted treatment or counseling or both,” Scarpace advises, “and that’s where treatment comes in.”

How do you deal with stress? Share your healthy stress relievers with us this month @RecoverGateway on Facebook and Twitter.

Fake Weed-Related Injuries and Deaths Break Out in Illinois

K2An outbreak of synthetic marijuana, starting in Chicago and fanning out in Illinois, has caused more than 50 cases of serious bleeding–including two deaths–and those numbers are rising.

“This is the first time we’ve seen an outbreak of this magnitude in the area,” Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the Illinois Department of Public Health, announces.

Its effects can be up to 10 times more intense than marijuana; as a result, it’s more dangerous. And its longterm effects on the brain and body are still unknown.

“Synthetic cannabinoids have been touted as ‘safe, legal’ alternatives to marijuana and other illicit substances, but they are neither,” says Gateway Lake Villa Executive Director Karen Wolownik-Albert. “Patients in treatment who are withdrawing from these unknown chemicals experience extreme agitation, language and perceptual disturbances, paranoia, hallucinations, and significant physical discomfort.”

What is synthetic marijuana?

Synthetic marijuana, often referred to as K2, consists of human-made chemicals that are either sprayed on dried, shredded plant material and smoked, or liquids that are vaporized and inhaled in e-cigarettes and other devices.

What are the signs?

  • Feeling lightheaded and having trouble walking
  • Vomiting
  • Agitation, confusion, paranoia, and panic attacks
  • Hallucinations
  • Rapid heart rate and over-stimulation of the central nervous system

What should you do?

If you or someone you know is experiencing any of these symptoms, seek immediate medical attention.

What’s Been Going on at Gateway?

This year marks our 50th anniversary, and we are celebrating our accomplishments while working to improve and innovate. These past few weeks, we’ve looked back and forward:

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Gateway Aurora alumna Lucy Gabinski-Smith (left) and Lake Villa alumnus Nick Kanehl (center) visited our Gateway Chicago headquarters March 20 to inspire the board, including CEO Tom Britton (right), with their recovery stories*. They also shared how they have continued their connection to Gateway through our alumni programs.

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Chicago River North and Independence Clinical Director Gilbert Lichstein taught 36 participants about motivational interviewing at a Loyola University Medical Center Grand Rounds Training on March 22. Motivational interviewing helps clinicians to treat each patient as an individual.

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We’re over the Cupid Shuffle. A Gateway team ran with members of the recovery community for the annual Bank of America Shamrock Shuffle 8K March 25.

*If you or someone you know would like to tell your Gateway recovery story, please contact us. We’d love to interview you and inspire others. 

Drug & Alcohol Use in Adolescents

Nearly 70 percent of high school seniors have tried alcohol, 50 percent have taken an illegal drug, and more than 20 percent have used a prescription drug for a non-medical reason, studies show. Research has found the majority of people are most likely to misuse drugs and alcohol during this transformative time.

Why is this the trend?

  • Underdevelopment of the prefrontal cortex
    • The parts of the brain that process reward and pain first mature during childhood. However, the prefrontal cortex – responsible for controlling impulses, emotions, and decision-making – does not mature until people reach their mid-20s. Therefore, adolescents are motivated by the desire to feel pleasure and avoid pain, both of which are associated with drug and alcohol use.
  • Genetic factors
    • Certain genetic traits, for instance a low harm-avoidance personality trait, make individuals more susceptible to using drugs and alcohol.
    • Mental health concerns such as depression and anxiety also increase the likelihood an adolescent will turn to substances.
  • Social environment
    • Teens are more likely to try drugs and alcohol if their friends are also using.
  • Accessibility of drugs
    • Adolescents are at an increased risk of trying substances if they have easy access to them.
  • Family environment

Compared to adults, adolescents are much more likely to hide their substance use from loved ones. Adolescents are also less likely to show signs of a problem because they have a shorter history of use. However, there are still red flags.

What are the signs?

  • Loss of interest in school and hobbies
  • Sudden need for more money and unwillingness to explain spending habits
  • Withdrawal from family and friends, and an increased desire to be alone
  • Change in friends
  • Change in behavior or personality
  • Unresponsiveness to communication
  • Frequent rule-breaking, especially of curfew

While most adolescents who try drugs and alcohol do not have substance use disorders, the likelihood of developing a substance use disorder is greater for people who begin using in their early teens. According to a study, 15.2 percent of people who start drinking by age 14 develop substance use disorders, compared to 2.1 percent of those who wait until they are 21 or older.

What are the effects?

  • Difficulties with schoolwork
  • Relationship problems
  • Loss of interest in normal healthy activities
  • Impaired memory and thinking ability
  • Increased risk of contracting an infectious disease
  • Mental health problems—including substance use disorders
  • Increased possibility of partaking in unsafe sexual activities
  • Overdose
  • Death

The key in the battle against adolescent addiction is time: We need to involve adolescents in professional treatment programs as soon as possible. Adolescents are less likely to seek out help on their own, so it is crucial loved ones help them into treatment.

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