Finding and maintaining courage in these challenging times

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By Jarrod McNaughton, MBA, FACHE, is the Chief Executive Officer of Inland Empire Health Plan, one of the 10 largest Medicaid health plans and the largest not-for-profit Medicare-Medicaid Plan in the U.S.

September is Suicide Prevention Awareness Month and with so much widespread pain happening in our community and country, it seems even more important to remind ourselves of the resources available to help those struggling with the emotional toll these crises are presenting. When it comes to grief, unrest, and sadness – finding and maintaining courage is critical.

Mental health is a critical issue that was on the rise in America before the COVID-19 pandemic. According to the National Institute of Mental Health Disorders, an estimated 26 percent of Americans age 18 and older already suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder. In fact, recent Census Bureau data about mental health amid COVID-19 shows that a third of Americans are showing signs of clinical anxiety or depression.

In light of recent events, we know that number is skyrocketing. We are being forced to accept new realities and stressors in a way that is simply unprecedented, and that can take a toll. The impacts are so great, that we cannot in good conscience stand by and not help each other through these challenging times.

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It is in times of crisis and uncertainty that our courage is tested. We must have the courage and heart to give hope and offer support to any family members and friends suffering from despair. We should also try with all our might to have that same courage and heart to recognize these needs within ourselves as well, keeping mental health top of mind.

So, what can any of us do to help others and ourselves feel emotionally connected, valued, respected, and loved?

Small but powerful actions can make a big difference. A smile and eye contact can establish a sense of human connection. Sometimes, just listening and being listened to. And of course, a kind word or compliment can make a world of difference.

Let us have the courage to reach out to those who may be going through a tough time. Remind them they are not alone- that you are there to support and care for them. Even though we are all practicing social distancing, it does not mean we can’t talk about health and social issues we are facing together.

Offer help with day to day tasks, like grocery shopping or setting someone up on Zoom or Facetime. Your support can make someone else feel important. Making healthy connections to one another has a powerful effect. It can lower anxiety and depression and improve our overall immune systems.

Have the courage to share or utilize resources, too. The Institute on Aging provides a great resource in the Friendship Line – the nation’s only 24-hour toll-free hotline for older adults and adults with disabilities – (800) 971-0016. The helpline is staffed by people who specialize in offering a caring ear and having a friendly conversation.

“Chat and Chai,” a weekly podcast focusing on mental health is also available to our community. Hosted by Inland Empire Health Plan’s (IEHP) Behavioral Health Medical Director Gayani DeSilva, and Clinical Behavioral Health Director Amrita Rai, the podcast explores the connection between physical and mental health and provides practical advice and tools for the community. Episodes have covered topics including suicide, grief, weight loss, and more. To listen, simply find Chat and Chai on your favorite podcast platform, including Apple, Google and Spotify.

We are all needed, we are all valued, and we all have a purpose. By working together and having the courage to continue to lift each other up, I truly believe we will come out of this year and into a brighter, healthier future.

If you, or someone you care about, are feeling overwhelmed with emotions like sadness, depression, or anxiety, or feel like you want to harm yourself or others, please talk to someone. You can call 911 or visit the Disaster Distress Helpline at, call (800) 985-5990, or text TalkWithUs to 66746. If you are an IEHP member, call Member Services to connect with a behavioral health specialist today at (800) 440-IEHP (4347), TTY (800) 718-4347.

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