Wednesday, February 04, 2015

Talking Behavioral Health- When Bringing your Work Home is Okay


 As the communications specialist for NCADD- NJ, I see the many facets of addiction issues; from prevention to recovery supports, and all the obstacles in between. We try, on a larger scale, to address addiction from a moral standpoint by fighting stigma while promoting addiction as a brain disease rather than as a moral weakness. We work at the legislative level to increase addiction treatment funding and have hundreds of advocates working together for effective change.

As we do these things, it becomes increasingly clear to me that part of the reason we have our work cut out for us is that in order to create societal movement on a macro level, we need to change things on a micro level first, and consistently.  Among the public awareness efforts is the Screening, Brief Intervention and Referral to Treatment grant, an early intervention model, which is geared toward 15-22 year olds, and the Consumer Voices for Coverage grant that assists individuals to get health care coverage. At different times during the day, I become acutely aware that educating my own children about these issues is much more difficult than educating the public.

A Family History

Our genetics, sometimes fortunately and sometimes unfortunately, can determine our fate.

When I went to my last physical, my doctor’s office had gone digital, so I was asked for my family history once again. No problem. I thought it may need to be updated after a decade anyway. I couldn’t help but notice that there were no questions about behavioral health. Odd, I thought to myself. It so greatly impacted so many of my family members. This led me to think of my oldest child, my 14-year-old son, who has bi-polar disorder. I can easily tell him that addiction and mental illness runs in his family, but might it have a greater impact to him if it were on the family history portion of his health record as an illness? After all, he voices concern over diabetes in our family. If behavioral health- or behavioral illness- cost our health care system so much money, why wouldn’t that question be on health records? At least we would be starting somewhere to raise awareness.

This link on integrated care is from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration: http://www.integration.samhsa.gov/about-us/what-is-integrated-care

My son recently learned that two family members took their lives as a direct result of behavioral health issues. So I came out and said it: “Look, if you choose to ever drink alcohol or use substances, you are taking a big risk and that is fact. We have proof there is a strong genetic component to addiction and quite frankly, the odds are not in your favor.  This is not I am making up to scare you out of doing something bad. If heart disease was in the family I would be telling you the same thing.” It drives me crazy that as far as we have come technologically, we (the powers that be) still don’t integrate health care or see human beings as a comprehensive puzzle.



I don’t know if my candid talk will actually help him make healthy decisions in terms of substances or not, but I know that my conscience is clear since I have started down a path of open communication with my son. There are times when one may think it is easier to avoid these harsh truths. But at what cost?

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