States Trim Mental Health Programs Amid Global Health Crisis

It’s been a tough few months for many Americans. A once in a century pandemic has so far killed more than 140,000 people in the United States, causing untold grief and distress while sending the economy into a tailspin.
As if painful isolation from friends and family and anxiety over catching a deadly virus wasn’t bad enough, May and June saw the addition of social unrest and protests over widespread racism. This kind of prolonged, relentless stress cannot remain without consequences.
Mental health and addiction professionals across the United States are now warning that the need for behavioral health services is growing. But while the need for services is growing, many states are faced with budgetary shortfalls. “Colorado is cutting spending on a number of mental health and substance use treatment programs,” Markian Hawryluk reported for Kaiser Health News and The Denver Post in July.
“In Colorado, lawmakers had to fill a $3.3 billion hole in the budget for fiscal year 2020, which started July 1. That included cuts to a handful of mental health programs, with small overall savings but potentially significant impact on those who relied on them.”
Tragically, state legislatures have been forced to consider healthcare cuts and delay new health programs even in the midst of a healthcare crisis. But many lawmakers and health experts are concerned the cuts needed now to balance budgets could make the situation far worse down the line.
“Healthcare cuts tend to be on the table, and of course, it’s counterproductive,” Edwin Park, a health policy professor at Georgetown University told Colorado Public Radio. “When there’s a recession, people lose their jobs and health insurance the very moment when people need those health programs the most.” Some of those cuts were offset by $15.2 million in federal CARES Act funding allocated to behavioral healthcare programs. Some programs, however, were completely defunded.
Doyle Forrestal, CEO of the Colorado Behavioral Healthcare Council, worries that resources won’t be there for an emerging wave of mental health and substance use disorders unleashed by the pandemic. “People who are isolated at home are drinking a lot more, maybe having other problems — isolation, economic despair,” she told Kaiser Health News. “There’s going to be a whole new influx once all of this takes hold.”
Isolation and despair are indeed widely acknowledged drivers of addiction and mood disorders. At the same time, physical distancing measures implemented to contain the COVID-19 outbreak have made it more difficult to provide treatment. A lot of therapeutic face-to-face engagement cannot simply be replaced with an online platform. Harmony continues to serve people suffering from a substance use disorder and has implemented a number of precautionary measures to ensure staff and client safety. Delaying addiction treatment—even during a pandemic—is not a good idea.
Harmony has provided cutting-edge treatment at its Estes Park center in Colorado for half a century. Our modern, evidence-based approach to addiction treatment acknowledges the important role mental health conditions play as drivers of substance use disorders. People may misuse drugs and alcohol because of mental health issues like trauma, depression, and anxiety—all currently intensified by the pandemic.
If co-occurring conditions aren’t addressed, clients are more likely to relapse because they may be tempted to use substances to self-medicate those issues. All staff at Harmony have been trained in trauma-informed care. Modern addiction treatment requires a comprehensive, holistic approach that addresses all mental health issues relevant to the substance misuse and provides a solid foundation for sustained recovery from addiction.

How to Avoid the Monday Blues with Michael Arnold’s New Podcast

Monday morning is a stressful time for many people. Anxiety about work or a depressed mood are not beneficial for anybody but they can be dangerous relapse triggers for people in recovery from addiction.

One way to deal with the Monday blues is to confront it head-on and make a virtue of it. Michael Arnold is the director of alumni and recovery support services at Harmony Foundation. She has found an engaging way to help people in recovery snap out of any dark moods they may be experiencing.

In May, Michael started a podcast called “Monday State of Mind” to give the recovery community a positive start into the workweek. Her sheer boundless enthusiasm alone will cheer up your Monday—or any other day for that matter. “I know the good that happens when I choose to be consciously aware of my state of mind,” explained the woman known as the “Hurricane of Happiness” in episode one. An alumna of Harmony herself, Michael continues to use the tools that were given to her while she was there as a client.

The fuel behind “Monday State of Mind” is her intense desire to “recover out loud” and in the process help others in the same situation. “ At Harmony, I get to help alumni implement the foundation they learned into their daily lives and help show them how to continue to take their power back by creating and living lives that are filled with continuous growth, meaningful connection, service, gratitude, and so much more.”

“Monday State of Mind” means to tackle thought-provoking questions that relate to recovery and how to apply the answers into the daily life of listeners. Michael aims to challenge listeners to ask themselves whether their state of mind is helping them catapult their week forward, or whether it is harming their week.

And when things don’t go your way, you just have to deal with it—appropriately. The week leading up to episode nine reminded Michael to keep it authentic when she realized that her request for listener questions had resulted in zero replies. In typical Michael Arnold fashion, she turned that Monday disappointment around and made it the topic of the episode that followed four episodes about humility after all.

At first, she got anxious and started blaming herself for this “failure.” Destructive, self-defeating thoughts showed up: “Why are you even doing this podcast?” and “No one is listening!” Then her ego chimed in: “Michael, you can’t admit that no one submitted questions. Just make some up!” But she felt fairly uneasy about making things up—she didn’t want to be a fraud. Instead, Michael called a friend who put her straight: “Michael, this is your opportunity to really show what you have been talking about. Your topics are happening to you. You have a great opportunity to be humble to the world and talk about it.”

Michael realized that “in order to change your state of mind you have to make tough decisions to grow. You have to be prepared to be a little uncomfortable.” She understood that she can’t expect listeners to be transparent, truthful, and vulnerable if she is not prepared to be so herself. After all, nobody is perfect and you can’t beat the Monday blues by faking it.


Catch the podcast here:
Michael Arnold is the co-author of
Drowning in Addiction: A Personal Guide to Recovery

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A Family Affair: Navigating Holiday Triggers by Khara Croswaite Brindle

Family: Holiday Triggers

It’s that time of year again, the time where people like to highlight the good, the cheer, and the happiness of the holiday season. But what if holidays bring on a sense of dread? What if you have to navigate the heavy drinking of your family members? Or be in the same room with a person who hurt you in the past? What if holidays create loneliness, risk of relapse, or critical self-reflection as the year comes to a close? For many people, these worries are just the beginning of what they may navigate from November to the New Year. So how can we each feel supported through the stressors of the season?

Bolstering Boundaries

One important element of being successful in our functioning around family is boundaries. Boundaries can be defined as physical or emotional in the way they are implemented to allow feelings of safety. Here are some examples of boundaries to consider with family to support feelings of safety and security during the holiday season:

  • Allowing someone’s refusal of a hug from a family member they barely know
  • Supporting comfortable distance between individuals throughout holiday activity
  • Encouraging space when close proximity is triggering such as a walk or errand
  • Listening for verbal cues about safe and unsafe topics during meals
  • Honoring a person’s decision to decline an activity due to risk of relapse

In other words, identifying ideas of how to support each family member’s needs can encourage enjoyment in all holiday festivities without judgement or conflict. This mindfulness of self and others can entice individuals to fully participate and engage in positive experiences as a family.

Tracking Triggers

Mindfulness can support positive experience through coping with triggers in the holiday environment. Supporting each family member’s self-awareness of triggers can be a first step in determining adjustments to allow full participation in festivities.  In the hope of healthy family connection, below are some examples of triggers that may arise:

  • Interacting with a family member that was formerly abusive
  • Talking of trauma topics that create conflict such as the time they had a drinking problem, eating disorder, or abusive partner
  • Engaging in traditions that encourage relapse including spectator sports
  • Recognizing people or places that are connected to trauma memories such as the holiday party where they experienced sexual assault
  • Feeling peer pressure to engage in activities that feel unsafe including binge drinking
  • Having the perception of criticism or judgement by their family, coworkers, or friends
  • Remembering trauma anniversaries that overlap with the holidays including death and breakups
  • Experiencing sights, smells, and other sensory information that connect to trauma such as cologne/perfume, alcohol, or ice and snow

Cultivating Connection

With all of the potential triggers at play during the holidays, it becomes crucial that we feel a connection to one another in our efforts to contain the stress. Reaching out to trusted family and friends or seeking the help of a professional can support a person in navigating the holiday demands. Balancing out stress with positive connection can make a significant difference in our ability to participate in holiday traditions and create new, positive memories where trauma memories formerly dictated our experience. By connecting with people who can relate, we may also learn new skills of how to remain fully present in the holiday experience and find joy in the family and traditions we’ve come to value.

 “Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Khara Croswaite Brindle, MA, LPC, ACS, is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the Lowry Neighborhood of Denver, Colorado. She received her Masters Degree in Counseling Psychology from the University of Denver with a focus on community based mental health. Khara has experience working with at-risk youth and families, including collaboration with detention, probation, and the Department of Human Services. Khara enjoys working with young adults experiencing anxiety, depression, trauma, relational conflict, self-esteem challenges, and life transitions.


The Place for Spirituality in Recovery by Mike Lewis, M.A.

Spirituality is the calling to look more deeply into our lives – into ourselves, our relationships, our communities, and our relationships with the ecological and universal realms. As the Dalai Lama has said many times, “All beings want happiness and freedom from suffering.” We all want to love, be loved, feel peace, be creative, feel connected, and feel fulfilled with our lives. Treading the labyrinth of humanity’s misguided attempts toward achieving these deeper desires leads us down disastrous roads, dead ends, and into pits of confusion and despair. For a while, tasty foods, expensive material items, and prideful accomplishments can trigger the pleasurable neurotransmitters in our brains. Working much like a drug or alcohol, the external stimuli lose their power and we develop dependence and tolerance, needing more and more to get our happiness high. Finally, we are left strung out and unhappier than we were in the beginning. On the path of recovery, we bring spirituality into our lives to help us reconnect in a more sustainable and healthy way – a way that fills our core with contented pleasure and without as much dependence on things outside of ourselves. A quiet walk, taking time to chop the vegetables with precision, prayer, meditation, snuggling with our pets, gazing into the eyes of our loves ones, singing, painting, self-help workshops, religion, planting vegetables, reading, eating slowly and tasting every bite, fellowship, listening to soothing music, and donating time and resources for another’s benefit – these are common examples of how healthy people let go of their frantic pursuits of the insatiable highs and slow down to appreciate this fragile, fleeting, yet incredibly wonderful human life. Take a moment for spiritualty today. Breathe and appreciate this body, this life. Smell the roses – they are all around us if we can learn to see them.

Stop and Smell the Roses; Psychology Today
Identify Your True Source of Happiness; Chopra
11 Ways to Appreciate Your Life a Little More; Mind Body Green

Mike Lewis is a Spiritual Advisor and Detox Counselor at Harmony Foundation
Mike Lewis Bio

Listening to the Seen and the Unseen

— Carol O’Dowd, MPA, M.Div, RP President, Colorado Association of Psychotherapists

Recovery, whether from addiction or a difficult situation, is aided by listening to the seen and the unseen. Often, how we listen causes us to not see what is in front of us. Have you ever walked into a familiar room to meet with family, friends or business associates and someone points to a new decoration or a piece of furniture in the room? You sat there wondering, “How did that get there?” Sometimes objects go for days being unseen. Our ancestors go unseen flowing as DNA in our veins while being powerful forces making us, us. Some of us grew up in households where we were trained to be addicted whether to alcohol or other substances. We learned to be pawns in a game with our unseen emotions.

Another option is to listen and notice the messages we hold and consciously choose which ones we want to play with instead of letting them play us. When the voice in our head is an old message from Mom, Dad or a memory of destructive family argument from long ago, we can create space between us and the message. We can take a moment to breathe in and hold in our fist the ghoul of anger, fear, frustration or the voice crying out “Go get a drink.” We can then set down the unseen emotion, unclasp our fist and release it. We can breathe out lovingkindness into our pain and sorrow. We can breathe in lovingkindness that we send to that space in our body where we held the destructive emotion. We can tell that portion of our body to relax. We can breathe out lovingkindness to the ghoul in front of us and tell it, “I do not need you right now. Please stay here. For the next 20 minutes I have a project to do a without you.”

Yes, those unseen emotions and old tapes can be so powerful, they keep returning. The practice is to listen carefully so that you can choose the ones you want to influence you. Seeing them as thoughts or emotions gone awry, you can put them inside a doll, rock, pencil holder or other object. Then pick them up and set them aside. If only for a moment, you can walk away without them. Although they may return, each time, they do so with less force. You can listen instead to acts of kindness from those in your past. In one moment you can listen to messages from the unseen to guide you to see more of the world right in front of you. You can consciously choose to spend time with people, animals and spirit beings who inspire you to live in a world of peace.

Go to for the mental health services offered by a wide diversity of mental health professionals.
Contact me at if you want to join a group that will be exploring the practice of deep listening on Sunday mornings starting in February.

The Link Between Child Abuse, Substance Abuse and Relapse

It is well known that relapse is common for those in early recovery from addiction. Also well known is that those with a history of child abuse are more likely to abuse substances in adulthood. A recent study now links the two – showing that those with history of substance abuse who are in early recovery have a higher propensity for relapse.

New York University School of Medicine and Yale University School of Medicine researchers published their recent findings in the American Medical Association journal, JAMA Psychiatry, showing the link between the two and highlighting the potential difficulty of treating adult addicts with a history of abuse. The researchers used MRI scans to look at the brains of 79 people in substance abuse treatment, some with a history of child abuse and others without. The researchers looked for changes in the brain previously associated with an increased risk for substance abuse relapse. They found these changes to be more prevalent among those who had a history of child abuse. The research showed that the increased risk of relapse pertained to all addictive substances. The study also noted that as many as 5 out of 10 people who experience neglect or childhood abuse will develop substance abuse problems and will have a high rate of relapse.

The findings also discussed the challenge of having effective treatment for those with child abuse in their history because the relapse potential is so high. However, addiction treatment centers like Harmony Foundation already consider abuse history when crafting treatment plans for new clients and programs for those who had relapsed. Because the rate of relapse is high for those in early recovery in general let alone those with a history of abuse, offering relapse prevention groups and therapeutic opportunities to recognize and face triggers is essential in addiction treatment.

Men and Women Have Different Triggers

What Triggers You? Photo Via

A recent study published in the Scientific American showed that alcoholic men and women relapse for different reasons.

It is common knowledge that relapse rates are high for those in recovery from drug and alcohol addiction. That is why addiction treatment programs work with clients on relapse prevention before they leave treatment.

John Kelly and Bettina Hoeppner with Massachusetts General Hospital collected and assessed data that revealed new insights for relapse prevention. For 15 months they looked at the social networks and drinking habits of 1,726 members of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). They presented them with hypotheticals and asked them how confident they were in their ability to stay sober if those situations happened.

They found that male alcoholics are at greatest risk of relapse when they are in social situations where others are drinking. AA helps them stay sober by being around non-drinking friends. After some time in recovery with fellow members of AA, they learn coping skills to handle situations where friends or colleagues are drinking around them socially. The classic depiction of men bonding in business or personal life over a glass of whiskey seems to be all too triggering for men.

Kelly and Hoeppner found that women alcoholics are at greatest risk for relapse when they feel strong emotions. When they are feeling depressed or anxious, fellow female AA members can help them recognize that they can have emotions, but they don’t have to react to them by picking up a drink.

While in alcoholism treatment, clients often identify their own relapse triggers – be it business dinners, breakups or celebrations. Those in early recovery are cautioned to avoid those situations because the integrity of their recovery should come first. Clients also have opportunities to play out the triggering situations in an individual or group therapeutic setting while in treatment. They can role-play how they would react to identified triggers by utilizing the new tools they learned in recovery. Over time when they are strong in their recovery they can handle triggering situations with grace.

What are your triggers? How do you handle them?


“Drug Dreams” in Early Recovery

Have you ever had a terrible dream of loss or grief only to awake and feel immensely grateful that it was not true? Well this occurs quite frequently with addicts and alcoholics in early recovery such as those in addiction treatment centers. They experience “using dreams” or “drug dreams” that gallingly pop up at crucial moments of recovery.

Many of those who awake from a drug dream report being filled with gratitude that they have not picked up. They value the days, weeks and months that make up their sobriety and they wear their time sober as a badge of honor resembling hard work. Many dream that they have used, lost their sober time, let others around them down, and they experience feelings of guilt mixed with a murky darkness or impending doom. Just like anyone who has experienced a bad dream, they wake up thankful that it was only a dream.

Others report awaking with a feeling of relief but also find the dreams triggering. This is because they actually experience being “high” in their dreams, which may spark cravings the next day or a few days following the dream. The thought of being high in their dream permeates their waking hours and they find themselves suddenly preoccupied with using despite being strong in their resolve not to pick up just the day before. The dream then just seems downright unfair. For an addict’s hard work to be temporarily undermined by a using dream feels like putting salt on a wound.

There is limited research on why drug dreams occur or if certain groups experience them more often than others. However, some addiction treatment professionals say that drug dreams can indicate something positive – that they are the brain’s way of healing – of closing the gap between a painful and dramatic past with a serene future. With each dream the brain is healing – by reconciling the addict’s new way of living by playing out the past in a dream rather than in real life. Many believe the dreams occur more frequently in early sobriety because the brain is healing the most then. Using dreams may reappear at stressful times in life – sometimes even years after being sober – because the life situation may resemble something the sober brain has not conquered yet. However cumbersome and annoying using dreams might be, the bottom line is that they are just a dream and we can choose how we react to them. We can play into the disease of addiction by letting them be triggering, or we can let them fill us with gratitude that the brain is healing and we are sober in real life.