Monthly Archives: March 2016

Why employers may be the first line of defense against SUD and mental illness.


“At Clarke Shoes and now at Easy Spirit we tried hard not to institutionalize the way that we interact with people, but instead we try to lead with our humanity.  This created a culture where people who were struggling with mental health or substance use disorders could ask for help—we worked to remove the stigma.” 

                                                                                               Jim Salzano, Easy Spirit Shoes

One of our mantras at Fedcap is “work completes treatment.” In other words, work leads to greater economic self-sufficiency, increased self-esteem, and ultimately healthy connection with colleagues—all antidotes to the roots of addiction. When an individual is employed and self-sufficient and working in an environment where the culture supports asking for help, many of the issues that led to addiction in the first place can be mitigated.


Jim Salzano, the CEO of Easy Spirit and prior CEO at Clarke Shoes, has led the way in creating a culture of acceptance and support for employees who struggle with mental health or substance use disorders. Mr. Salzano will be joining us on Wednesday, March 30 for our Solution Series discussion on how to turn a workplace culture from fear and stigma around mental health and substance use issues to one of support and encouragement. We’ll also hear from Matt Sisk, the Deputy Commissioner of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation who himself struggled with the fear and stigma as he made his own path to recovery. Brooke Wilson, from Aetna will speak about the ways an Employee Assistance Program can intervene and support businesses, and Adrienne Occhino of the Boston-based Kimpton Hotels will talk about ways her business is working to change the culture around addiction and mental health.

The most recent statistics suggest that 23.5 million people suffer with substance use disorder or SUD. Here’s the problem: substance use disorder leads to a huge hit to an employer’s bottom line through absenteeism, reduced productivity, increased risk of injuries and illness and exorbitant health care costs due to issues such as emergency room visits, disability, and worker’s comp claims. It is estimated that $276 billion dollars a year are incurred by employers in the cost of care due to employee substance abuse issues and untreated mental illness.

These statistics can be reversed.

Many of the people who struggle with addiction or mental illness do not choose to get help. They lack education about what treatment is available, they lack resources to pay for treatment, or, like Matt Sisk, they are worried about what their coworkers will think of them. Employers can make a huge impact. By implementing policies and education about issues around addiction and mental illness, they can begin to reverse the financial and human toll.

 When employers do not appreciate and understand the tangible and intangible price of mental illness and addiction, their bottom lines will continue to be impacted in ways that could ultimately be prevented. And yet,  if employers do understand and act, they can lead the way in changing not only the course of those who suffer from addiction and/or mental illness, but also create a positive culture  while reducing stigma and modeling to the greater society how these individuals should be treated and supported.

Join us on March 30th from 8-9:30 a.m. for our Solution Series: Addressing Employee Mental Illness and Addiction—Improving Your Business Bottom Line. Our four panelists will offer concrete strategies and solutions for creating a supportive culture in the workplace for those who have mental health or substance use issues.



Stigma, mental illness, and SUD—changing the culture one contact at a time.

In 2014, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health conducted a survey of 700 people to determine their attitudes about employment of people in recovery from substance use disorder (SUD). 64% of those surveyed believed employers should be able to deny work to an individual with SUD; 57% percent believe that those individuals should have the same access to employment—and health insurance—as someone who does not struggle with SUD.

In a similar study in the U.K., 58% of respondents said they believe drug addiction results from a lack of willpower. 43% said that they didn’t want to live near someone with SUD.

Just as there are facts to prove that climate change exists, there are facts to prove that SUD and mental illness are real—this isn’t exactly new news, especially in our field. It’s not the facts—or lack of facts—that are the problem—it’s what people believe that calls forth the stigma—both from the public point of view, and from the point of view of the person who struggles with mental illness or SUD. The facts also bear out that shame is linked to substance use issues—and of course, if shame is a driver to SUD, then it is piled on as a consequence of public stigma.

Research tells us that there are three possible strategies to combat stigma: 1) protest—tell people they’re wrong. This strategy is basically reactive, but can serve to further awareness. I don’t believe it is a leading strategy for eliminating stigma. Then there’s: 2) education—a much more effective tool, which can lead to improved attitudes as people are confronted with facts. Unfortunately, those who have tucked away stereotypes or prejudices are not apt to embrace education that could disavow them of their beliefs.

The third way to combat stigma is contact—direct contact with those who would potentially be stigmatized. Contact is a simple, human answer to the problem of stigma. Getting to know someone removes barriers—true in any sphere. And, getting to know someone in a work environment, where it is clear that an individual can be a contributing, viable workmate is one of the chief ways to chip away at a culture that will inevitably shift as people get to know other people.

I am very excited about our upcoming Solution Series on March 30th —our 11th—which highlights two employers who have taken strides to support their employees with mental illness and substance use disorder. The policies, practices, and processes they have in place all serve to reduce—and ultimately eliminate—stigma through awareness, education, and most importantly, through day to day contact among employees. Please join us—and please feel free to share your thoughts about stigma—what do you do—every day—that can work toward eliminating stigma?


Pathways to Possible—Granite Pathways as a model of peer recovery and what works.

This week we are very pleased to be announcing the  combination of Fedcap with the New Hampshire-based peer recovery center—Granite Pathways. This is a particularly exciting alliance as the work of Granite Pathways and Fedcap is closely aligned in approach to mental illness and substance use disorder treatment and recovery through peer-led practice. The marriage of our two organizations will have a huge impact on recovery efforts in New Hampshire, especially because this approach to meeting the needs of the mentally ill and those struggling with addiction works.

I am sure you are aware of the statistics: New Hampshire has topped headlines as the highest percentage of drug-related deaths per capita in the United States. Over 300 deaths were attributed to opiods in 2015 with at least 80 more suspected to be opiod related—an unprecedented leap from prior years’ statistics. Drug-related deaths topped highway deaths in New Hampshire for the year. The combination of Fedcap and Granite Pathways offers the opportunity for immediate and sustained impact in New Hampshire.

Addressing mental health issues and substance use disorders is complicated—we know that. There is no one-size-fits-all approach but evidence clearly suggests that peer-led strategies, structure, systems, processes, and policies are a solid foundation upon which recovery can be achieved. Research shows that a peer-led recovery environment decreases morbidity rates, improves self-efficacy, lowers incidences of depression, heightens self-esteem, and overall, improves quality of life. Th
e need for social support is the critical element—human connection—makes the difference. Working alongside someone who has experienced the challenges of recovery means that the support is credible and sustaining.

The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines peer-led recovery efforts in four domains: emotional, informational, affiliational, and instrumental. Each of these four domains offers both technical and social support. The emotional domain is clearly the driver of support as it reflects empathy, caring, and a real connection between and among peers. The informational domain includes learning—vocational skills and practical life-skills knowledge sharing. The affiliational domain seeks to deepen socialization opportunities inside and outside the recovery home. The instrumental domain offers support in a practical way—through problem solving issues such as transportation and child care.

Peer led centers provide hope for those struggling with addiction and mental illness recovery. Please join me in celebrating the alliance between Fedcap and Granite Pathways.

I welcome your comments and feedback about your experiences and thoughts on peer-led treatment options.

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