Category Mental Health

Mental Health Days are Good for Business

By: Paolo del Vecchio, M.S.W., Director, SAMHSA’s Center for Mental Health Services

Each day, millions of Americans with chronic conditions—mental illness, addictions, diabetes, asthma, and many more—go to work. In fact, 15% of adults who are employed full-time and 20% who are employed part-time experienced mental illness in the past year (Source: SAMHSA’s National Survey on Drug Use and Health). Sometimes people with mental health conditions—like those with physical health conditions—need time off from work to cope with heightened symptoms or seek treatment.

Unfortunately, many people are skeptical of people taking sick leave to address mental health concerns. If you look up “mental health day” on websites that explain slang terms, most of the definitions equate the term to “playing hooky”—as if mental illness doesn’t merit the same consideration as physical illness. At SAMHSA, we work tirelessly to fight this type of misinformation.

That’s why a recent news storyExternal Web Site Policy  that attracted a great deal of attention gave me so much hope. When a web developer asked to take time off from work to “focus on her mental health,” the company’s CEO responded in an exemplary manner. He praised the web developer for reminding her co-workers of “the importance of using sick days for mental health” and being “an example to us all.”

Employers—particularly those with a small number of employees—have considerable flexibility in setting sick leave policies. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act and other civil rights laws give workers and job applicants with mental illness the same protections as those with any other chronic health condition. So, the CEO made a valid point about supporting mental health days when he wrote, “I can’t believe this is not standard practice at all organizations.”

I applaud the employee for her openness and the CEO for his encouragement of other employees to step forward when they need to take time off to focus on their mental health. By encouraging employees to take mental health days when needed, the CEO showed that he is not only a caring person, but also a smart businessperson. He knows that a mentally healthy workplace can lead to increased productivity. As the Harvard Mental Health LetterExternal Web Site Policy observed, “In the long term, costs spent on mental health care may represent an investment that will pay off—not only in healthier employees, but also for the company’s financial health.” Ensuring employee access to treatment (through health coverage and time off) reduces turnover, sick days, and workplace accidents, while increasing hours worked.

If you’re an employer who’d like to be more supportive of employee mental health needs, SAMHSA can help by providing guidance. It’s important to remember that people with mental illness, including those with serious mental illness, are willing and able to work.  SAMHSA promotes evidence-based supported employment through grants to states and a comprehensive toolkit for service providers and government agencies. If we all work together, we can achieve a future in which asking for a mental health day is no different from calling out with a bad cold.

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First Responders— Using Behavioral Health Approaches to Improve Safety for All

By: Paolo del Vecchio, M.S.W., Director, SAMHSA Center for Mental Health Services; CAPT Maryann E. Robinson, Ph.D., R.N., Chief, Emergency Mental Health and Traumatic Stress Services Branch

Every day, first responders including police officers, firefighters and emergency medical services ‘personnel face situations requiring rapid but thoughtful decision-making. De-escalating a crisis, particularly ones involving persons who may be experiencing a mental illness or substance use disorder requires an approach informed by behavioral health knowledge. SAMHSA developed resources for first responders to provide the knowledge necessary to support individuals in crisis while maintaining safety.

First responders can be the first step on the road to recovery. Whether a person in crisis is experiencing an acute primary psychosis manic episode, severe depression or a drug overdose the goal is to provide trauma-informed support to people in need.

Creating Safe Scenes is a free online training course featuring interactive elements to train first responders to achieve five goals:

  • Understand the basics of behavioral health crises , including factors that may lead to crises
  • Make a safe connection with an individual experiencing a crisis
  • Use de-escalation strategies as needed when working with an individual in crisis
  • Develop community networks and share referral resources
  • Increase the safety of everyone on scene, including themselves and individuals in crisis

The Creating Safe Scenes Training Course may be accessed at: Web Site Policy

Also, as our nation deals with the epidemic of opioid use and overdose, SAMHSA has developed an Opioid Overdose Prevention Toolkit for first responders, community members and prescribers to help save lives. This toolkit offers strategies to health care providers, communities, and local governments for developing practices and policies to help prevent opioid-related overdoses and deaths. Access reports for community members, prescribers, patients and families, and those recovering from opioid overdose. The Opioid Toolkit may be accessed at:

Creating Safe Scenes and the Opioid Overdose Prevention Toolkit will help first responders apply safe behavioral health strategies during a crisis, as well as promote and practice the ever-important act of self-care, at all times.

Behavioral health crises can often be prevented through services and support. To find help in your community, visit SAMHSA’s Behavioral Health Treatment Services Locator,, or call SAMHSA’s National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (1-800-662-4357) for voice or 1-800-487-4889 (TDD).

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The “B” in LGBT: Bisexual People and Behavioral Health

By: Amy Andre, MBA, MA, member of SAMHSA’s Sexual and Gender Minority Interest Group

From September 21-27, we celebrate Bisexuality Awareness Week.  In honor of this upcoming event, I’d like to talk about the “B” in the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) community.  Did you know that, of all those who identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual, half identify as bisexual? That means the “B” the largest segment of the LGBT community.

Bisexual people are people who are attracted to more than one gender (although not necessarily at the same time, to the same extent, or in the same way). Like gay and lesbian people, many bisexual people experience discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, and this discrimination can have an impact on health.  According to data from the National Health Information Survey and others, bisexual people face discrimination and higher rates of mental and/or substance use disorders compared to people who are not bisexual.

For years, researchers at medical schools and public health institutions have shown that, compared to their heterosexual peers, gay and lesbian people have higher levels of depression and suicidality, as well as smoking, alcohol and substance misuse, and that these are, in part, linked to homophobia and its effect on behavioral health.  More recent research shows that the same is true for bisexual people, and to an even larger extent.  In addition, the literature shows that bisexual people, compared to their gay and lesbian peers, are less likely to be out of the closet, which might have implications for behavioral health.  One goal of Bisexuality Awareness Week is to call attention to the health disparities faced by this community, and another goal is to highlight the importance of targeted, culturally competent programs to reduce those disparities.

The Administration has taken important steps towards meeting the unique needs of the bisexual community.  Last year the White House’s Office of Public Engagement convened a panel of bisexual community leaders and bisexual health experts to participate in a roundtable discussion on the topic.  And this year, SAMHSA will be hosting a “brown bag” training event for staff to learn about behavioral health in the bisexual community.  SAMHSA has also recommended that sexual orientation (including bisexuality) survey items be added to the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, beginning in 2015.

People who identify as bisexual face challenges, but getting the behavioral health care they need doesn’t have to be one of them.  By educating  health care providers about including culturally competent support services to the bisexual community, SAMHSA is working to fulfill its mission is to reduce the impact of substance abuse and mental illness on America’s communities.

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Join the Recovery Month Movement

By: Michael Duffy, RN, BSN, SAMHSA Region VI Regional Administrator

Throughout the month of September, communities across the country have come together to observe the 25th annual National Recovery Month (Recovery Month). Community events are the cornerstone of Recovery Month and provide a setting celebrate the successes of people who are in recovery. As individuals and communities across the country unite to speak up about behavioral health conditions and the reality of recovery, I invite you to join the movement and participate in Recovery and Health: Echoing Through the CommunityExternal Web Site Policy, a nationwide webcast.

On Monday, September 15, 2014 at 12:00 p.m. EST, a panel of national experts and experienced practitioners in recovery and health will kick-off an interactive discussion about integrating recovery into state and community systems. During this discussion, participants can send live questions to the panelists via email or on Twitter (@samhsagovExternal Web Site Policy). At the end of the panel discussion, echo site participants are invited to lead their own discussion using the information from the webcast to brainstorm and create an action plan to integrate recovery into their community.

Get involved and join the voices for recovery!

Register your Echo Site now! Register as an individual now!

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