A regular general health check-up makes a good mental health move

One of the best items to put on your new year calendar is an appointment with your primary care physician or PCP. This habit is so very important for your general health and – as it turns out – for your mental health.

When you have concerns about your mental health it can be understandably tough to seek advice. It helps to have an established relationship with someone you trust – ideally someone who knows you and your past.

One answer? Look to your family physician or PCP when you have mental health concerns. They play an important role in your overall health – general and behavioral. In fact, the development of integrated care, the systematic coordination of general and behavioral health care, has been advancing for many years. PCPs are becoming more and more skilled in identifying behavioral health concerns in their patients..

Once you describe what you are facing, a physician may ask a few questions about signs and symptoms, and your environment in general terms. Ideally, PCPs are trained to know when to refer a problem to someone else when it goes beyond their expertise or ability to address. At the same time, mild physical or behavioral issues can be appropriately cared for in a primary care setting without specialists.

If you are given a referral and you acquire behavioral health care services, perhaps with prescribed medication, it is always comforting to have your PCP still guiding your general health care on the road to complete good health.

Additionally, a good PCP can be of help even when you might not be aware you need assistance because he or she has established the trust to obtain candid responses from general questions, such as: How are things at home, do you feel safe, how much do you worry, how well do you sleep or how well are you eating?

What if I don’t have a primary physician?

Finding a primary care physician can be a challenge. Sometimes people get off track when they move, switch doctors or providers, and they simply need to make a concerted effort to reconnect. Sometimes securing a PCP has just not been happening for a variety of reasons, so establishing a new habit requires a lifestyle shift.

But let’s stop right there for a moment. If you have a pressing mental health concern, don’t worry about securing a PCP first, please call our Colorado hotline at 1-844-493-(TALK) 8255. These very helpful confidential services are provided 24/7 and associated with six walk-in crisis centers throughout the Denver-Boulder metro area. 

Now back to a PCP search. First, allow plenty of time to research and make your decisions. Many people find it takes longer than expected. Most insurance companies have a “find a doctor” tool to help sure you stay within your insurance network and consider the options. There you will find information about experience and perhaps patient reviews. Or to reach Colorado’s Medicaid Program, the link is Colorado Health First.

Secondly, when you secure a first visit, it is very smart to do some prep work: 1) Have a good grasp of your health care history: prescriptions, chronic conditions and previous procedures; 2) Write down questions you have well in advance, so you cover them all. Appointments can go rather quickly; and 3) Ask the best way to share medical information with the office ahead of time. Sometimes sending information in advance is very helpful.

Here to help

Integrated care is making significant strides. Consequently regular visits with a primary care physician goes a long way toward peace of mind in good general and behavioral health. If you have a mental health concern about yourself or a loved one, we are glad to consult with you at Community Reach Center. Further we can assist with integrated care options through our Mountainland Pediatrics center and through our Health Home program. To get more information about our metro Denver mental health centers visit communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.


Finding the right words to help

One big key to helping someone is providing a good mix of listening and well-chosen words.

When you are concerned about someone who may be struggling in the aftermath of a traumatic event, depression, substance use disorder (SUD) or just plain having a garden-variety bad day, trust your instinct to reach out. Of course, the natural worry is always what to say, what words to use.

You might first ask: “How are you feeling?” or perhaps a little stronger, “I am concerned about you, are you okay?”

Then just listen. Listen some more. If a long pause seems a little uncomfortable, just wait and be patient in the silence. It’s not uncommon for someone who is not feeling well to need a bit more time to express their thoughts. Perhaps ask a question again, but be prepared to respectfully pull away if through active listening you get a sense that the time is clearly not right for this conversation.

And when the talking starts, your acquaintance or loved one may gush with comments or slowly measure each word to share thoughts. Either way, let him or her have the floor. Listen and let your words be calm and of comfort. Good listening is key to helping you find the words you need.

The Mental Health First Aid course, offered across the globe, coaches participants to “Listen Nonjudgmentally,” as a key step in a five-step action plan. When you respond, be empathetic.  Your acknowledgement of that person’s emotional pain can be a tremendous source of comfort to them. Resist the temptation to tell a story about something similar that you may have experienced. Instead concentrate on understanding what he or she is sharing. Most importantly, not judging also means avoiding cliché responses like “man up” or “snap out of it” or “stop thinking about it” as if what they are experiencing is minor.

Mental Health First Aid courses involve a mix of listening and responding skills with knowledge and identification of signs and symptoms. The five steps in full are: 1) Assess for risk of suicide or harm, 2) Listen non-judgmentally, 3) Give reassurance and information, 4) Encourage appropriate professional help, 5) Encourage self-help and other support strategies.  Visit Mental Health First Aid Colorado to locate a class at a date and location that is convenient for you.

Words and phrases

Here are a few more tips:

1) Show you are listening. Sit together. Perhaps offer to go to a quiet place. Some good words might be “I am here for you. Let’s go for a walk and talk.”

2) Be empathic. Some good words might be “I can see that that is painful for you.”

3) Clearly offer to help. Some good words to express your sincere offer might be, “How can I help you right now?” or “Let me bring you dinner tonight, would that okay?”

4) Breathe. Offer to breath together. Perhaps suggest taking three deep breathes. Maybe it will work or maybe you both will crack up and start laughing. Either way the power of doing something together moves the discussion forward.

Trust your intentions along the way

Give yourself permission to show you care, knowing you might not muster the perfect words at the right time – especially following a traumatic event. A passage in the Mental Health First Aid manual sums it up this way:

“When talking to someone who has experienced a traumatic event, it is more important to be genuinely caring than to say the right things. Show the person that you understand and care and ask how you can best help. Speak clearly and avoid clinical and technical language, and communicate with the person as an equal, rather than as a superior or an expert. If the person seems unable to understand, you may need to calmly repeat yourself. Providing support doesn’t have to be complicated; it can involve small things like spending time with the person, having a cup of tea or coffee, chatting about day-to-day life, or giving a hug.”

As to giving a hug, it’s courteous to first ask permission if it’s someone outside your immediate family, but the point is to trust yourself. Showing you care will help to make your words ring true.

Finding the right words is key to helping someone with a mental health challenge or anything else. If you have a mental health concern about yourself or a loved one, we are glad to consult with you at Community Reach Center. To get more information about our metro Denver mental health centers visit communityreachcenter.org or call 303-853-3500. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.

6 Ways to Make New Year’s Resolutions Stick

Woman going over her new years resolutionsThe arrival of the new year is a great time to make a fresh start in how you address your physical, mental and emotional health. Many people make New Year’s resolutions to get more exercise, quit smoking, eat better, start a meditation practice, etc. Unfortunately, too often our initial enthusiasm quickly fades, and we abandon those health initiatives. Does that mean we simply shouldn’t make resolutions in the first place? No, not at all. As we tell people at our family counseling center, committing to improving your health and your life in general is a very good thing. The key is to approach those promises in a way that helps you keep them. 


Six Tips for Keeping Your New Year’s Resolutions

Even before you set your first goal for next year, resolve to read this list of tips for sticking with your resolutions!

  1. Be selective. Most of us have many areas of our lives where we could make improvements. However, changing behaviors takes significant effort. Choose too many objectives and you will likely struggle to have the time or energy to achieve any of them.
  2. Start slowly. If your goal is to exercise regularly, and ultimately you want to be working out five days each week, start by committing to one or two. Gradual changes in your routine are much more likely to become habits and then ongoing behaviors.
  3. Discuss your intentions and your progress. Letting a friend or family member know what you are attempting to do can both help you feel a sense of accountability and give you someone to talk to about your successes and setbacks.
  4. Be kind to yourself. Few people have ever made a New Year’s resolution and then stuck with it without fail. When you backslide a bit, know that you are not alone and also that there’s no reason you can’t pick up right where you left off on the resolution when you’re ready to do so.
  5. Keep a journal. Jotting some quick notes regularly about how things are going with your resolution can be very enlightening. For one thing, it can help you identify patterns that may be useful in making changes to your routine. For example, if you frequently indicate that you didn’t enjoy your Monday trip to the gym, perhaps Monday should be a rest day and you would enjoy the workout more on Tuesdays.
  6. Give yourself a pass for real-life interruptions. You get the flu and can’t work out for a week. Your work schedule gets hectic and you have to eat fast food on the run more than you’d like. While you need to hold yourself accountable to keep your resolutions, there will be times that life makes it essentially impossible. Don’t count those instances as “breaking” your resolution; think of them as “pausing” it!


Okay, Okay, But Can I Make it Fun?

These six tips will work for you. However, not all resolutions in the mix have to be entirely earnest. Sometimes a playful resolution mixed with the serious ones can help you stay mindful of all your resolutions. It can be fun. Here are a few: 1) Play a board game with your family once a month; 2) Send a birthday card to all your relatives; 3) Improve your handwriting; 4) Have a Super Saturday with each family member through the year in which each picks a fun activity to enjoy with you; or 5) Write down the best jokes you hear through the year on your smartphone to share at the end of the year. Remember laughing is good for your mental health. You get the idea.


Helping Make Steady Progress Toward Your Goals

New year’s resolutions can improve your mental and emotional health, but sometimes the insights of a skilled counselor are required to overcome mental health challenges. Please don’t hesitate to seek help. Contact us online or call us at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for more information about our family counseling services. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.


9 Tips for Enjoying Stress-Free Holidays

Woman deep in thought

The holidays can be a wonderful time of joy and celebration with family and friends. However, they can also be a source of anxiety and stress. Fortunately, steps can be taken to make the holidays less stressful and more enjoyable. As a provider of mental health services, we encourage our consumers to be proactive and to celebrate in the ways that work best for them.


Festivities That Fit Your Lifestyle

Too often the holidays are focused on pleasing others in everything from the way we decorate to the gifts we give. That feeling of being “out of control” is one of the main reasons that the holidays can be stressful. Use the nine tips below to make the season more fun and festive.

  1. Make decisions early. Should I serve ham or turkey? White lights or colored lights outside? Real tree or artificial tree? There are no right or wrong answers to these kinds of questions. Rather than pondering them endlessly, give them brief consideration, make a decision and move on.
  2. Set a gift budget and stick to it. Financial stress is an unfortunate aspect of the holidays for many people, especially when they spend more than they had intended. Set a reasonable budget for gift purchases, write it down and stick to it.
  3. Consider a break from tradition. Enjoying the holidays in the same way each year can be a source of comfort, but it can also start to feel restrictive. Don’t hesitate to break from certain traditions if doing so will lower your stress level.
  4. Take care of your mind and body. In the last few months of the year, it’s easy for all the activities and obligations to push the things you do to maintain your mental and physical health to the back burner. Don’t let that happen. Eat well, get plenty of rest, exercise regularly, pray or meditate and in general make an effort to be good to yourself.
  5. Learn to say “No.” The demands on your time during the holidays can be overwhelming. Make a list of all the activities you could participate in and then scratch items off the list until you have a reasonable agenda. It may be hard to do, but it is well worth the effort.
  6. Overcome perfectionist tendencies. Trying too hard to make everything about the holidays “perfect” is a major source of stress. Remind yourself frequently that letting go of perfectionism lets you get a better hold on happiness!
  7. Ask for help. As they say, “Many hands make light work.” Get other family members involved in decorating, cooking and cleaning. They may groan at first, but they will likely find that shared tasks bring a sense of camaraderie that makes the holidays more fun.
  8. Go tech-free now and then. Especially during holiday meals and events, put your smartphone away and ask that others do the same. The constant distraction of alerts and updates can keep your body and mind in a perpetual “fight or flight” state that can be exhausting.
  9. Focus on gratitude. If the holidays have been stressful for you in the past, it’s easy to have expectations that the same will be true this year. Rather than thinking about the negative aspects of prior holidays, keep redirecting your mind to the things you are grateful for. It can be difficult to break free from pessimistic thought patterns, but if you are persistent, you can do it!


Social Anxiety Disorders and the Holidays

The holidays can be especially stressful for people who have a social anxiety disorder. Using the tips above can be helpful, but consider professional mental health services for you or a loved one. A skilled counselor can talk about specific situations and help to develop strategies for navigating the unique challenges of this time of year.

Fill out our contact form or call us at 303-853-3500 Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. for more information about our counseling services. We have centers in the northside Denver metro area of Adams County including the cities of Thornton, Westminster, Northglenn, Commerce City and Brighton.