Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Let the good times roll (safely)!

Last year, Mardi Gras turned into a superspreader event for COVID-19. 

This year, there won't be any parades or the big public events that we love and cherish, but that doesn't mean we can't still let the good times roll! 

From king cakes and costumes to decorations and documentaries, there are still plenty of ways to celebrate the spirit of Carnival.

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Share the flavors of the holidays with your loved ones

Baked Apples and Pears with Almonds (Source: American Heart Association)

By MINDY FACIANE | Public Information Officer, Bureau of Media and Communications

COVID-19 has brought many changes to our lives this year, and the holidays have certainly been no exception. Governor John Bel Edwards and the Department of Health strongly encourage families to host small celebrations at home with their own households and to consider reaching out to extended family through video platforms like Zoom or Facebook Rooms.

We know how hard it is to be apart from those we love during the most joyous season of the year. We’ll miss the friends and family who can’t be with us, but the best way to show them how much we care is to reduce the likelihood of giving them COVID-19.

So, while we can’t be together this holiday season, we can still find ways to create shared experiences together across the miles, whether they be few or many. This can be as simple as a dinner over video chat with the same scented candle burning in every household, a shared holiday music playlist and everyone making the same delicious dish as part of their spread. Well-Ahead Louisiana is providing these healthy recipes for you to share with your loved ones so everyone can settle on the same one to prepare in time for the big (distanced) meal.

Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Scratch-offs don't belong in Christmas stockings

(Note: This blog post was originally published in December 2018. We are sharing it again as Louisianans consider gifts for their loved ones for the holidays.)

Christmas is a time when the eyes of children are fixated firmly on what’s beneath the Christmas tree and in their stockings. While it may be tempting to gift them with something like a lottery ticket, the Louisiana Department of Health’s Office of Behavioral Health recommends against such gifts.

It is not too unusual for parents and relatives to gift children and youth with lottery tickets, scratch-offs and other gambling games. Such gifts are given with good intentions – they provide a little hope and fun, as well as dreams of winning something amazing. However, the odds of winning are small, especially when compared to the odds of developing a gambling addiction. Gambling games like these are meant for adults and are age restricted for a reason.

The Office of Behavioral Health released a report titled, 2018 Louisiana Caring Communities Youth Survey, that detailed 2018 gambling statistics among students in grades 6, 8 10 and 12. The survey revealed that over 40% of students reported gambling in the past year. The highest incidences of gambling were reported amongst 18% of 10th graders who reported betting on sporting events, and 16.8% of 8th graders surveyed reported that they had played the lottery or lottery scratch-off tickets.

Studies of adults with gambling problems have shown that the earlier a person begins to gamble, the more likely they are to develop a gambling problem, especially when scoring a big win at a young age. An article by Renee St-Pierre and Jeffrey Derevensky noted, “Disordered gambling among youths is frequently linked with…greater gambling expenditure, academic difficulties, poor or disrupted family relationships, both concurrent and later alcohol and substance abuse problems.”

“Giving a lottery ticket or scratch-off to a child may seem like a cheap, fun and harmless gift, but such gifts can increase risk factors for an addiction problem further down the road. That’s why we discourage the giving of such presents to children,” said Kenneth Saucier, Program Manager with the Office of Behavioral Health.

Louisiana provides problem gambling resources at no cost to residents. For more information on problem gambling or to set up an appointment to address a problem or concern, call the Louisiana Problem Gamblers Helpline at 1-877-770-STOP (7867). The helpline provides confidential support and is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Help is also available online through the Office of Behavioral Health and the Louisiana Association for Compulsive Gambling.

Friday, October 9, 2020

Hurricane season: Emotional and psychological disaster preparedness

(Note: This blog post was originally published in July 2019 as Hurricane Barry approached Louisiana. With 2020’s especially active hurricane season, we are sharing it again with updated resources and information on COVID-19 and flu season.)

By DR. JAMES E. HUSSEY | Medical Director, LDH Office of Behavioral Health

Tropical weather in the Gulf this week has us on our toes, ready to spring into action if things get nasty. While here in Louisiana we’re always ready for the possibility of high winds and torrential rains, we usually look to the practical side of things: Did we stock up on food and water? Is the generator ready to go?

Those things are undeniably important, but it’s also a good idea to be prepared mentally and emotionally. Natural events such as a storm can unfold in minutes to hours, yet the feelings and emotions they evoke can linger for weeks, months and even years after.

Psychological preparedness can help you think logically and wisely during and after disasters, helping to keep you physically safe while also weathering the emotional storm.

Disaster-related stress can affect anyone, but some people may be more vulnerable than others. They may include those with disabilities, existing mental health issues, children, the elderly and those who have been previously impacted by floods, hurricanes and other disasters.

Recognizing disaster-related stress

FEMA has some online resources aimed at coping with disaster. First, it is important to be able to recognize signs and symptoms of disaster-related stress, and to seek counseling or assistance. According to FEMA, some symptoms may include:

  • Difficulty communicating thoughts
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty maintaining balance in their lives
  • Low threshold of frustration
  • Increased use of drugs/alcohol
  • Limited attention span
  • Poor work performance
  • Headaches/stomach problems
  • Tunnel vision/muffled hearing
  • Colds or flu-like symptoms
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Reluctance to leave home
  • Depression, sadness
  • Feelings of hopelessness
  • Mood swings and easy bouts of crying
  • Overwhelming guilt and self-doubt

It’s OK to seek help

If disaster-related stress starts wearing you down, it’s perfectly normal and OK to ask for help. Here are some helpful resources:

  • The Keep Calm hotline, 1-866-310-7977, will connect you to trained, compassionate counselors who can offer support and who can direct you to mental health and substance abuse counseling services.
  • The Behavioral Health Recovery Outreach Line, 1-833-333-1132, offers 24/7/365 support for healthcare professionals and recovery support for those with substance use, mental health, mental illness or co-occurring disorders. Qualified support providers will connect you to trained specialists and clinicians in multiple languages.
  • The Disaster Distress Helpline, 1-800-985-5990, is a 24/7, 365-day-a-year national hotline dedicated to providing immediate crisis counseling for those in emotional distress related to any natural or human-caused disaster.
  • The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK.
  • For non-emergencies, check the Office of Behavioral Health directory for local community behavioral health services in Louisiana.
  • The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has a Disaster Kit for recovery workers, which includes wallet cards, guides for parents, caregivers, teachers and others. There is also a SAMHSA Disaster App.

Contact your primary care doctor and/or your insurance plan for referrals to behavioral health specialists.

Physical and emotional health

Hurricane season arrives amid the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic and the oncoming flu season. It is just as critical to take care of your physical health as it is your emotional health. 

  • Flu and COVID-19 are respiratory diseases that share the same preventive measures: 
  • Wear a cloth mask or face covering, 
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds,
  • Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol if soap and water are unavailable, 
  • Cover coughs and sneezes, 
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth with unclean hands,
  • Clean and disinfect objects and surfaces regularly,
  • Don’t go out unless necessary,
  • Keep a distance of at least 6 feet between yourself and others, and
  • Stay home if you are sick.

This year, it is more important than ever that you get your flu shot. An individual whose body is already weakened by the flu is likely to be more susceptible to COVID-19. The flu shot lessens the burden of flu illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths, so vaccinating as many people as possible decreases the likelihood of our healthcare system being overwhelmed by both flu and COVID patients.

Flu shots are available at your local clinic, your healthcare provider, most pharmacies or at one of the Department of Health’s upcoming vaccination clinics. 

If you believe you have been exposed to COVID-19, isolate yourself from other people and call your healthcare provider. 

The Louisiana Department of Health’s Fight the Flu website and COVID-19 webpage offer a wealth of guidance, resources and more information.

FEMA also recommends that you take steps to promote your own physical and emotional health and healing by healthy eating, rest, exercise, relaxation and perhaps even meditation. It is important to maintain a normal family routine as much as possible and to lean on your existing support groups of family, friends and religious institutions.

Be prepared

For many people, having a disaster supply kit stocked and a family disaster plan ready is a great comfort. When the storm comes, you’ll be ready to go. For more information, click here.

Monday, September 28, 2020

Recovery Month 2020: No longer 'loitering with the intent to recover'

By DANIEL FREEDMAN | Counselor in Training, St. Christopher’s Addiction Wellness Center of Baton Rouge

My name is Daniel Freedman, I am 28 years old and I am from Baton Rouge. I am a recovered drug addict and alcoholic, and by the grace of God and the program of Alcoholics Anonymous I have been sober since October 15, 2016.

Before that date, I spent several years in and out of recovery with varying degrees of success. As a friend said to me once, I was simply “loitering with the intent to recover” in the rooms of AA. So, what was different about the sobriety that began October 15, 2016 compared to all of the other times I tried to get sober? To get there, I have to tell you a little about how I became addicted.           

I had a normal childhood by all accounts, and I can say without hesitation that my parents did the absolute best they could for me and my older brother. My father is an alcoholic, but he remained sober for the majority of my life. He worked a normal job, had normal hobbies like gardening, and we did normal things like watch LSU football games and yell at the television. My mother is not an alcoholic or addict, and I believe she is as close to a saint as one can be. My brother is a substance abuser, but as he was six years older than me, I didn’t truly see this until I became older.

Alcohol, painkillers and more

My first experience with substances was marijuana at age 13, followed close behind by alcohol, painkillers, benzodiazepines and, honestly, whatever else I could get my hands on. I dealt with anxiety and depression as a kid, and I always had a feeling that I was somehow different from my peers. I justified this feeling as being the only Jewish boy in my school or some other perceived reason I was different. The reality is I was a young boy who had all of the early signs of alcoholism — I have often heard this referred to as the “ism.”

I was irritable and restless, and when I was first introduced to marijuana, all of those issues went away. At 16, I was introduced to Oxycontin, and I distinctly remember where I was that day because I recall lying on a bed after ingesting the pill and thinking, “This is it. I have arrived.” I wanted to feel that way forever. I knew that from that moment on, I would do anything in my power to obtain that feeling.

I can assure you the next six years were anything but fun. I slowly drank and drugged my way out of one high school and into another. I partied my way out of LSU as a freshman and continued to watch opportunities evaporate before my eyes. I was not concerned. I had one moment of insanity which resulted in me living in the Middle East for a year, thinking that Baton Rouge was my problem and I would be fine if I took a “geographical cure.” I was mistaken. I was the problem. I am the problem.

Journey to sobriety

When I got sober for the first time at age 22, I was introduced to AA and actually felt a sense of belonging for the first time in my life. Although I did not remain sober then, I never forgot that feeling and I always knew where to turn if I wanted help. When I became sober this time, the first thing I did was reach out to my AA community. They were just about the only human beings left who were answering my phone calls, and they did not hesitate to help. I was not in a position to enter addiction treatment, instead detoxing on my friend’s sofa in New Orleans. I walked into the rooms of AA still shaking from withdrawals and have not found the need to leave since.

The biggest difference in my life today is that I became desperate enough to actually work the 12 steps of AA and continue working them on a daily basis. I immersed myself in the program and found myself working with others, or practicing the 12th step, very early on in my sobriety. My sponsor at the time was hard on me, saying that if I didn’t want to die I needed to hurry up and help people. He was right.

I found a spiritual relationship with a higher power and I am comfortable calling it God, although I can’t draw you a picture and it’s likely very different than your conception. I pray on a daily basis, meditate most mornings, take daily inventory and try to be mindful of where I have been dishonest, selfish, resentful and afraid. I have made most of my amends but would be lying if I said they were all complete. I work with others as frequently as I can because I still believe that the best way for me to stay sober and alive is for me to give this away.  

In 2017, I was hired by the treatment center that I went through as a recovery advocate. In 2018, I became an addiction counselor in training and was afforded the opportunity to work with addicts and alcoholics in the same building where I was a patient. I have since moved on to another treatment center and I am currently a sophomore at Southeastern Louisiana State University where I am pursuing a degree in social work.

In my addiction, if you would have told me that I would be here today I would not have believed a word of it. If you would have asked me what I wanted out of life at that point, I think I would have sold myself short because the life I am afforded today was not one I could dream of. I have real relationships with people today who I can rely on, and they can genuinely rely on me. I have real opportunities and a genuine desire to help others.

This life is all a result of working the 12 steps of AA to the best of my ability and finding a relationship with a God of my understanding. I wouldn’t trade it for the world.