Category: Interpersonal Communication

Happy National Make a Friend Day!

Happy National Make a Friend Day!

In honor of friends both old and new, I want to highlight some of the health benefits that friendship can have on our lives:

  • Friends help you manage stress
    • By providing emotional support, information, and material aid, friends help you to better deal with the stressors in your life
  • Friends encourage you to take better care of yourself
    • By volunteering as your gym buddy, or supporting you during your attempt to quit smoking, friends can provide the encouragement needed to initiate and maintain healthy lifestyle changes
  • Increase self-esteem
  • Increase your feelings of peace and contentment
    • By fulfilling the evolutionary need for the social connections that were vital to human survival, social connections give you a sense of security and ease
  • Increase lifespan
    • The Australian Longitudinal Study of Aging found that seniors who had close friends had increased longevity (friendship was found to be even more important than relationships with adult children and other family members)

So go out today and make a new friend, or at the very least, take time to appreciate the positive impact that your current friends have made on your life and well-being!

Mental health Monday: Orange County gets dementia-friendly

Dementia friendly logoNovember is Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and Family Caregivers Month, and both are being marked in Orange County by the rollout of the Orange County Dementia-Friendly Business Campaign.

That doesn’t mean that Orange County businesses want to drive you to dementia. Rather, participating businesses have committed to their consumer-facing employees taking a two-hour training in how to interact with people who may have dementia. Those businesses will also display the program’s logo near their entrances.

The idea is to recognize that more than 5 million Americans—more than 1 in 9 older people—are living with Alzheimer’s disease or another dementia. They have unique needs, especially when they interact with the community at large. Participating businesses are signaling that they are sensitive to those needs.

DeWana Anderson, a Carrboro veterinarian, said in a Chapel Hill News article that she found the training useful in working with some of the older people who bring their pets in for help.

“They may know what they want to say and they may know how they want to say it,” she said, “but when stuff hits them too fast, it can flabbergast them.”

The article said the staff at The Animal Hospital “learned through the training to ask simple questions and provide clear instructions to someone who has trouble understanding.”

The Dementia-Friendly Orange County site has more information on how to participate in the program, including a 19-minute training video. It’s aimed at teaching businesses how to be dementia-friendly, but which contains a lot of good tips for anybody who interacts with folks with dementia.

Dewey Mooring on Three Simple Rules for Marketing Success

Earlier this week, the writers of Upstream had the pleasure of hearing Dewey Mooring, the Vice President of Jennings: Healthcare Marketing talk about three simple rules for marketing success.

Mooring, a UNC alumni, graduated with a B.A. in Radio, TV and Motion pictures in 1993. He started his career in communications at WCHL, a local radio station in Chapel Hill, by helping with the broadcast of Tar Heel basketball and football games.

Fifteen years ago, he decided to join the advertising world, and now as the Vice President of Jennings, he leads the account team, authors strategic plans, creative briefs, and oversees research for various clients including Vidant Health, Cooper University Health Care, Southwestern Vermont Medical Center, and Darmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, among others.

As aspiring health communicators, we all benefited from Mooring’s valuable advice about successful marketing. He offered these three simple rules to follow:

1.) Know

Get to know your audience. If you don’t understand who you’re talking to, you won’t be successful in talking to them. Mooring suggests creating a persona for your audience in order to best market to them. Give that person a name, an age, a salary, and find out their media interests, like what they watch on TV, what magazines they read, and what brands they like.

2.) Engage

Once you get to know your audience, it becomes important to use this information to engage them. In the world of healthcare, peer-to-peer communication has become a huge trend, especially among online health information seekers. Because of this, finding ways to use social and digital media to connect brands with their target audiences can be a successful strategy. Mooring exemplifies this by talking about the company’s use of a blog for Lowell General Hospital & Floating Hospital for Children titled, Our Circle of Moms, that engages moms in the hospital’s brand by allowing them to connect and share with other moms in the community.

3.) Measure

When working with clients, it is important to not only show them what you spent their money on, but also to justify the money spent with measured results. This can be done by keeping track of visits to websites, how many people signed up for a program after information sessions, and radio and digital reach. Mooring points out that while measuring results is easier than it was before, it can still be difficult in the area of healthcare, as the majority of hospital services and treatments do not lend themselves to immediate action by consumers.

Mental health Monday: Alzheimer’s at the holidays

end of family dinnerPeople all across America are looking forward to going home for Thanksgiving. We’re making lists, shopping, cooking, packing, baking and getting in the holiday mood. And we’re mentally girding ourselves for our relatives. Going home often means seeing relatives. And depending on the relatives you’ve got, that might be terrific—or maybe not.

November is both Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness Month and Family Caregivers Month.  If you have a family member with one of the dementias (which we often lump together under the term “Alzheimer’s disease”), the reunion can be bittersweet. You love this person, but his or her behavior can cause real hardship for the people around him or her, especially at the holidays. However, according to the Alzheimer’s Association, there are ways to make holidays better for the whole family:

1) Adjust expectations. A family conference call before folks arrive for the big day can let everyone know in advance how Uncle Charlie is doing and what he needs to stay on an even keel. And do you need turkey and ham and venison and Cornish game hens? Keep it simple.

2) Involve the person with dementia. Focus on what s/he can do, not what s/he can’t. If it’s not a good idea to give Aunt Carla a knife to chop onions, maybe she can mix dough, or dry dishes, or tell stories to younger kids.

3) Don’t forget family members. Even if Grandpa doesn’t talk, don’t assume he doesn’t see and hear. The person you love is in there, even if his neurons are keeping him from expressing himself the way he used to. Consider switching the big dinner to a big lunch or brunch, because lots of folks with dementias do better earlier in the day. And remember that caregiving is a huge responsibility—take advantage of family members being around to give Grandpa’s caregiver some respite.

For more detail about the suggestions above, and a lot of other very useful information about dementia, visit the Alzheimer’s Association page at alz.org.

What are Community Health Workers (CHWs)?

Going to a doctor’s appointment, I often feel a variety of emotions: anxiety, apprehension, worry, confusion, and, hopefully at the end, relief. And I’m a student in a health profession! While this may not be the case for everyone who uses health services, imagine if English wasn’t your first language or your literacy skills were limited, if you had a cultural distrust of doctors, or you had other challenges and barriers you had to face in order to receive health care.

That’s often the case with more vulnerable members of the population, such as immigrants, who are also susceptible to significant health disparities compared to the rest of the population. As a way of reaching traditionally underserved individuals and “combatting ethnic and racial disparities in health care,” Community Health Workers (CHW) are being utilized more and more frequently. According to the American Public Health Association, CHWs are defined as: a frontline public health worker who is a trusted member of and/or has an unusually close understanding of the community being served. CHWs are recognized in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) as “important members of the health care workforce” and are meant to bridge the gap between community health and the traditional medical system. CHWs are able to communicate and connect with patients more deeply than many physicians may be able to by speaking the same language and often having shared experiences.

Some may be concerned over the fact that CHWs don’t have formal medical training, but they coach patients on their diagnoses. However, they often get several months of training, including on background on disease management, medications, and behavior change. This means CHWs can benefit patients by scheduling follow-up appointments and making sure they take their medications. Medicaid now reimburses for providing preventive services as long as a licensed practitioner (such as a physician) recommends the use of a CHW.

Recently, the American medical system has experienced rising costs, mediocre health outcomes, and isolated medical specialties. Interdisciplinary teams employing community health workers are a great way to better reach vulnerable patients and improve the quality of patient care, and states around the country should follow in the footsteps further develop the CHW workforce.

 

Read more from the Kaiser Health News story on L.A. Community Health Workers 

Photo source: Community Eye Health via Flickr.com 

Research Spotlight: Tom Linden, M.D.

RESEARCH SPOTLIGHT: TOM LINDEN, M.D.

Dr. Tom Linden, of the School of Media and Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), spoke with the Upstream writing team recently to share advice and provide guidance for writers who are new to the blog medium.

Linden, who has been awarded the title of Glaxo Wellcome Distinguished Professor of Medical Journalism, teaches courses in medical and science journalism for undergraduate and graduate students at UNC and has been director of the Medical and Science Journalism Master’s Program for 18 years.

With an extensive background in both psychiatric medicine and broadcast journalism, Linden offers aspiring health communicators a unique perspective of translating complex academic health information into practical knowledge for the general public to understand and apply in their daily lives.

To do this, Linden encourages health communication bloggers to incorporate basic journalism skills into their writing. He says the most important thing for a writer—using any medium—is to be mindful of their audience. Having an idea of the community that’s reading the material provides a framework for writers to know what kind of stories their readers find interesting.

Linden suggests five tips for creating interesting blog posts. First, he encourages writers to find fascination value with their topic. In other words, “Is it inherently interesting?” If the answer is no, it is unlikely to be with other readers as well. Next, he suggests selecting a topic that has a large audience. Writers can do this by asking, “Is my topic popular among many people?” Increasing audience size increases readership and possible sharing using other social media sites.

Third, he encourages writers to be aware of the importance factor when considering a blog topic. “Something can still be important without being fascinating or drawing a large audience, and that’s okay,” says Linden.

Another factor to consider when using journal articles as a starting point is the reliability of results. For example, finding a published article that includes a small sample size might be worth blogging about because the validity of the article is in question. He encourages writers to be on the lookout for limitations within articles because readers will find the contrast interesting. Finally, he says for writers to ensure their posts are timely. If it’s being talked about in the main media, chances are it would make a newsworthy blog post.

Linden believes adopting these techniques will improve the quality of posts for reaching a wider audience, particularly within the health community.

A simple message can make all the difference.

September is National Suicide Prevention Month.

This is an effort for which everyone can contribute, and it doesn’t require a monetary donation or time spent volunteering. Just take a moment and think about your friends, your loved ones, even your acquaintances. Can you think of a time when any of these people did something that made your life easier or said something that made you feel all warm and fuzzy inside? Did you return the favor or let them know their support mattered to you? You see, this post is not about preventing suicide directly. It’s about nurturing and building those social connections that keep us moving forward.

In this age of hectic schedules, endless email, and constant travel, it’s hard enough to even find the time to sleep. BUT, giving someone that same sense of belonging, or increased sense of self-worth that they once gave to you only takes a second. It’s as simple as a text message, a phone call, or a cup of coffee. By strengthening your social support network, not only are you helping others, you are helping yourself. When our network is strong, we are strong.

A simple message, smile, or hug can make all the difference in someone’s day. If you notice someone struggling, find the time to listen to them. Help them find the solution to their problem. Each individual makes choices based on a complex web of experience, emotions, and expectations. Accept that some things are out of your control and you cannot hold yourself accountable.

 But never underestimate the power of a phone call.

Please be responsible when discussing this issue on social media. Click here to access the NIH guidebook for Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention.

 

For prevention resources, click the links below:

American Foundation for Suicide Prevention: https://www.afsp.org/

Active Minds: http://www.activeminds.org/our-programming/awareness-campaigns/suicide-prevention-month

National Institute of Mental Health: https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/suicide-prevention/index.shtml#part_149729

Wellness Wednesdays: What is Health Behavior?

Defining ‘Health Behavior’

Today, we are going to begin exploring the simplified model of health behavior I introduced in last week’s post. However, I would like to start by clarifying just what ‘health behaviors’ are. Over the years, I have found David Gochman’s definition to be one of the most comprehensive. Gochman (1997) defined health behavior as ‘those personal attributes such as beliefs, expectations, motives, values, perceptions, and other cognitive elements; personality characteristics, including affective and emotional states and traits; and overt behavioral patterns, actions and habits that related to health maintenance, to health restoration, and to health improvement.’

 

Knowledge: Not Just Facts

‘Knowledge’ is the first component of our Simplified Theory (as a reminder, the other three components are ‘tools’, ‘skills’, and ‘materials’). We will break knowledge into two basic elements: factual information and attitudes/beliefs. Without drifting into a lengthy discussion of metaphysics, there are many academics who have proposed that there is not one reality, but many (I know, I know…it sounds pretty ‘out there’ – just bear with me). In some ways, they are right.

 

Is Perception Reality?

Individuals dictate their reality in a very concrete way, based on they perceive the world. This ‘subjective’ reality appears objective to the individual, and also has external consequences – but does that make it more ‘real’? To be clear, there is only one reality – my point is that there are infinite ways to perceive that reality, and how a given individual will carry out that perceptual process is determined by the innumerable experiences that person has had.

 

Necessary, but Not Sufficient

We live in the ‘Information Age’ – enjoying unprecedented access to factual information than ever before in human history. However, this access doesn’t seem to have translated to better health. In fact, health in the United States has been declining for decades, and now, for the first time ever, children born today may actually live shorter lives than their parents. This is unacceptable. But how do we fix it?

 

Changing Attitudes

Providing information is only the first step to promoting behavioral change. The bigger challenge is changing the attitudes and beliefs that prevent that information from being used to influence behavior and affect health. Next week, we’ll talk about some strategies by which that can be accomplished, on both the individual and organizational level.

 

Can you think of an example in your life where there is a disconnect between ‘information’ and ‘attitudes’? Have your beliefs about a behavior ever prevented you from trying it, even though you ‘knew’ it would be good for you? Please help to continue this conversation by adding your comments below!

Words may break more than bones

Courtesy of listverse.com.

Courtesy of listverse.com.

We’ve all heard it:

Sticks and stones may break my bones, 

But words will never hurt me.

However, a new paper from an international group of researchers suggests that this may not be the case. Their study, published last month in the journal Bipolar Disorder, found that verbal abuse during childhood may lead to an earlier age of onset of bipolar disorder and more severe occurrences.

Bipolar disorder, sometimes called manic depression, is characterized by mood swings between unrealistic and unsustainable highs (mania) and irrational and often unbearable depths (depression).  The researchers found that verbal abuse in childhood was related to the co-occurrence of anxiety and substance abuse, rapid cycling between the two mood extremes, and a worse prognosis generally.

More than 600 outpatients with bipolar disorder were surveyed about their childhood experiences; in the United States, 59 percent of them reported childhood verbal abuse.  The researchers recommended family-focused prevention programs and psychotherapy for those suffering after the fact.

Perhaps it’s time to replace that old nursery rhyme with a saying from the Dalai Lama:

Be kind whenever possible.

It is always possible.

 

Safe app for mental health sharing

A shot of NAMI's new AIR app-- anonymous, inspiring, relatable. Courtesy of NAMI.org.

A shot of NAMI’s new AIR app– anonymous, inspiring, relatable. Courtesy of NAMI.org.

We live on social media these days, but people with mental illnesses are often wary of sharing their experiences in those forums. Stigma and ignorance can make those kinds of disclosures hazardous.

However, studies have shown that sharing the daily experience of mental disorders can help people to overcome them. Now, just in time for Mental Health Month (May) the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is unveiling a free mobile app that will provide a safe forum for this kind of sharing. The app is called AIR, for “Anonymous. Inspiring. Relatable.”

It’s available from the Google Play store and the Apple App Store. You provide an email address (not visible to other users) and choose a group—either “individual living with a mental health condition” or “family member or caregiver.” You can toggle between groups.

Once you’re in a group, you can join a conversation or just put your thoughts or condition out there. In NAMI’s words, “users are anonymous but not alone.” And you can respond to posts with “Like,” “Hug,” or “Me Too” buttons.

The app will also allow you to access local and national help resources, such as NAMI’s HelpLine and the National Suicide Prevention Hotline. It’s not a substitute for a doctor visit, but the fellowship of shared experience might provide the boost someone needs to get out the door to the doctor.

Click here for more information about NAMI AIR.