Mental Health Month 2018

May has been observed as Mental Health Month since 1949 . One in five Americans are affected by a mental health condition in their lifetime—as many as 43.8 million—and everyone is impacted through family or loved ones. A main objective of mental health awareness is to fight the stigma surrounding those living with sometimes serious conditions through education and support and to improve the chance of recovery for those in need.

Everyone has stress and difficult emotions on occasion, and this is completely normal. Mental illness, however, is any condition that makes it difficult to function in daily life. It can affect relationships or job performance, and is caused by any number of complex interactions within the human brain. Mental illness can range from anxiety or mood disorders like depression, psychotic disorders like schizophrenia, eating disorders, or addictive behaviors.

Mental illness is prevalent in homeless populations, with approximately 26% of adults staying in shelters living with serious mental health conditions and an estimated 46% with co-occurring severe mental illness and/or chronic substance abuse. One in five state prisoners have a recent history of mental illness. Mental health is a major concern for LGBT individuals often dealing with physical or emotional abuse, body dysmorphia, or feeling unsafe at school or work. Mood disorders such as depression or bipolar disorder are the third most common cause of hospitalizations in the U.S. across ages 18-44. Serious mental illness costs America $193.2 billion in lost earnings per year.

Earlier this year we wrote about Kansas’ approved Medicaid work requirement waiver and the impact work requirements may have on Medicaid recipients. Since then Indiana, Arkansas, and New Hampshire have also had work requirements for those receiving Medicaid benefits approved and Michigan is considering implementing them as well. The growing concern is that people who work could potentially lose Medicaid coverage by not meeting the specific requirements set differently in each state or by getting lost in administrative obstacles to verifying work status or documenting exemption. Work requirement exemptions are based on “medical frailty,” which is defined differently state-to-state and does not always include mental illness in their consideration of frailty. Many mental illnesses can be accompanied by cognitive difficulties affecting executive function, processing speed, and ability to collaborate and communicate which can impact a person’s ability to navigate the complex bureaucratic systems necessary to verify their work status or exemption.

NeedyMeds has Diagnosis Information Pages for various mental illnesses including depression, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and schizophrenia. We also have information for over 5,000 free, low-cost, or sliding-scale clinics throughout the country that offer counseling or mental health services. Search your ZIP Code for mental health clinics near you, or call our toll-free helpline for information at 1-800-503-6897 (open Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm ET).

We encourage everyone to educate themselves, strive to understand the difficulties people around us live with, and to replace stigma with hope and support. If you or someone you know is suffering from a mental health condition, it is important to know that no one is alone in their struggle. Call for assistance, whether help is needed immediately or long-term.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
NeedyMeds Toll-Free Helpline: 1-800-503-6897

CureStigma-Facebook-Facts-1

Women’s Health Week

This past Mother’s Day launched the 19th annual National Women’s Health Week. Led by the US Department of Health and Human Services Office on Women’s Health, the goal is to empower women to make their health a priority and raise awareness of the steps one can take to improve their health.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends many common measures, such as proper health screenings, staying physically active, eating healthy, and promoting other healthy behaviors. Healthy behaviors include getting enough sleep, being smoke-free, washing your hands, not texting while driving, or wearing a seatbelt, a bicycle helmet, or sunscreen when appropriate. Furthermore, the National Women’s Health Week website has suggestions for women in their 20s to their 90s.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA; aka Obamacare) established Essential Health Benefits (EHBs) that insurers are required to cover, including maternity care. Following last year’s failed attempts to repeal the ACA, the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced last month that insurers will be allowed to omit these Essential Health Benefits from their 2019 offerings, leaving the state of health insurance to pre-ACA standards when women were often charged inordinate fees for “extra” maternity coverage.

 

In January 2018 the HHS announced it would form the new Conscience and Religious Freedom Division that would allow doctors to refuse treatment for those that go against their religious beliefs—limiting access to care and undermining the civil rights, health, and well-being of women seeking reproductive health services, LGBT people, their children, and others. This past March the HHS-operated Office for Women’s Health (OWH) website removed the “lesbian and bisexual health” page and other related links; then again in April, the OHW Breast Cancer websites were removed before being replaced days later with a single page featuring less comprehensive information.

 

Last year, the Trump administration reinstated and expanded a rule banning family planning clinics abroad from receiving financial aid from the United States for providing abortion services, causing clinics around the world to close. The White House is reportedly looking into instituting a similar rule to ban U.S. providers from receiving Title X funding for even discussing abortion with patients.

Title X funding is mandated to focus on family planning and related preventive health services for patients who are low-income or uninsured with ⅔ of patients who get care through the program living at or below the federal poverty line. Providers are already forbidden from using Title X funds to pay for abortions, though they can currently still offer the procedure if they use other funding to pay for it.

Planned Parenthood serves up to 41% of Title X recipients, providing contraceptive care, cancer and STI screenings, and other crucial health services. If Planned Parenthood were to lose Title X funds just for educating patients of available services, other Title X providers would have to increase their caseloads by an average of 70% to compensate for the loss of Planned Parenthood and other providers. Many patients would likely lose access to care.

 

nwhw-logo-webDespite the steps back in access to care and removal of information from government websites over the past 16 months, there are still resources for women in need. In a previous blog post, we detailed the National Breast Cancer and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program; a program that has provided low-income, uninsured, and underserved women access to timely breast and cervical cancer screening and diagnostic services for over 25 years. Information for the local offerings from the program can be found in the NeedyMeds State Sponsored Programs database. There are other government programs for women’s health to be found on our site, including WISEWOMAN, a program that provides low-income, uninsured/under-insured women with blood pressure, cholesterol, and diabetes screenings.

NeedyMeds has a database of over 16,000 free, low cost, or sliding scale clinics, nearly 6000 of which offer women’s health services including over 500 Planned Parenthood locations. Search your ZIP code for clinics in your area, and find Women’s Health in Services under the Details heading to find free or low-cost medical attention. Assistance for women’s health can also be found in our Diagnosis-Based Assistance database by searching for conditions that affect the women in our lives. For more resources, check our website at Needymeds.org or call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897 9am to 5pm Eastern Time Monday through Friday.

World Asthma Day & Seasonal Allergies

Today is World Asthma Day, and we are in the midst of the time of year many know for seasonal allergies and asthma attack symptoms. Most spring allergies are caused by pollen released by trees, grass, weeds, and other plants and can cause runny nose, itchy eyes, and other uncomfortable symptoms. The rising temperatures can also negatively impact those with asthma.

While some of the symptoms are the same, allergies and asthma are two entirely different diseases, but there can be overlap. The primary difference is that allergies are a disease of the immune system whereas asthma is a disease of the lungs. Over 26 million Americans are affected by asthma. There are two types of asthma, allergic and non-allergic, with similar symptoms caused by airway obstruction and inflammation. The most common symptoms are shortness of breath, chest tightness, coughing and wheezing. The difference between the two is that non-allergic asthma is triggered by a variety of causes (such as cold air, exercise, smoke, or stress and anxiety) while allergic asthma is triggered by pollen, mold, pet dander, or other inhaled allergens. Allergies are much more common than asthma, affecting an estimated 50 million Americans. Allergies are broken down into seven types: indoor, outdoor, food, latex, insect, skin, and eye. If the spring air is causing you to experience symptoms, you more than likely have outdoor allergies.

 

There are a number of different resources for asthma and allergies available on the NeedyMeds site. The first place to check is the Asthma and Allergies Diagnosis Information Page – which ties together all of the assistance listings we have in one place. This page includes a list of patient assistance programs that may provide prescribed medications at low or no cost for asthma and allergy medications. We also have listings for camps and recreational retreats for individuals and families with asthma or allergies. There are three camps available for allergy sufferers and over 40 camps for those with Asthma. For more information, call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897 (open 9am to 5pm ET, Monday through Friday).

 

Getting out of the Weeds with Medicinal Cannabis

Medicinal cannabis (aka medical marijuana) is a growing topic in the United States. Today, there are 29 states (plus Washington DC) where cannabis is a legal medical option for patients. Cannabis is mostly prescribed for pain relief but can also be used to treat muscle spasms caused by multiple sclerosis, chemotherapy-induced nausea, lack of appetite from chronic illness, seizure disorders, Crohn’s disease, and more. However, cannabis exists in a legal gray area: while medicinally legal in a majority states, it is federally illegal and considered a Schedule I controlled substance by the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA)—defined as having no acceptable medical use and high potential for abuse; the same categorization for heroin, LSD, and ecstacy.

 

Cannabis extract, commonly found in early 20th century pharmacies

Cannabis extract, commonly found in early 20th century pharmacies

The cannabis or hemp plant can be traced back to Central Asia before being introduced to Africa, Europe, and the Americas. Hemp fiber was used to make textiles used for clothing, rope, paper, and sails for hundreds of years before an Irish doctor found cannabis extracts could lessen the stomach pain and vomiting from patients suffering from cholera in the 1830s. By the late 19th century, cannabis extracts were commonly sold in pharmacies and doctors’ offices throughout Europe and the United States.

 

Cannabis also has a history of recreational use. Ancient Greek texts describe inhaling smoke of cannabis seeds and flowers, and Middle Eastern and Asian cultures refined the cannabis plant into hashish. Cannabis was not widely used recreationally in the United States until the early 20th century, commonly attributed to immigrants fleeing the Mexican Revolution. Unrest of the Great Depression along resentment of Mexican immigrants and black jazz musicians were contributing factors to the prohibition of cannabis in the U.S. by the 1930s.

 

The two most prominent compounds found in cannabis are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). Both CBD and THC interact with the body’s endocannabinoid system—a signalling system regulating pain, appetite, mood, memory, and cellular life-death cycles. The main differences between CBD and THC is whether the cannabinoid will create a euphoric effect. THC is the compound that produces the “high” feeling, primarily interacting with cannabinoid receptors in the brain and nervous system. CBD on the other hand is non-psychoactive and does not produce a euphoria .

CBD is the therapeutic compound in cannabis and can be prescribed to patients with inflammation, pain, anxiety, psychosis, seizures, spasms, and other conditions without side effects. Clinical research has found benefits for those living with arthritis, diabetes, alcoholism, multiple sclerosis, chronic pain, schizophrenia, PTSD, depression, antibiotic-resistant infections, epilepsy, and other neurological disorders. CBD derived from hemp is legal in all 50 states, though CBD products derived from cannabis are only legal in the areas where medicinal marijuana has been legalized.

 

There are still many questions surrounding cannabis and its medical uses, as earnest research has been limited due to being considered a strongly controlled substance. Rates of cannabis abuse, the levels of physical addiction, and the rising potency of commercially available marijuana are the basis for concern from the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA). States that have legalized medical marijuana have shown a drop in opioid abuse and Medicare prescription costs were seen to fall in states after legalization. Just yesterday, a panel of experts recommended FDA-approval of an epilepsy drug made from marijuana, marking a first time a medication derived from cannabis may receive full FDA approval.

 

NeedyMeds has limited resources to connect patients with medical cannabis, but one record from our Diagnosis-Based Assistance database is for Realm of Caring. They offer two assistance programs: Realm Cares provides financial assistance for those seeking prescribed and approved cannabinoid treatment when not covered by insurance; and the Joy Fund helps patients looking to move to Colorado for legal access to cannabinoid therapies with a half grant/half interest-free loan.

For others seeking help with prescription costs, the NeedyMeds Drug Discount Card can save users up to 80% off the cash price of prescription medications for those without insurance or choose to use the card instead of insurance for anything picked up from a pharmacy. In addition to the plastic card, the card is available in a printable form or on the NeedyMeds Storylines app for Apple and Android devices. For more help finding information, call our toll-free helpline at 1-800-503-6897 Monday through Friday 9am to 5pm Eastern Time.

 

National Volunteer Week

National Volunteer Week was established in 1974, and we at NeedyMeds want to recognize our amazing volunteers that help make our work possible.

 

Two of our volunteers, Max & Don

Two NeedyMeds volunteers, Max & Don

Our local volunteers are invaluable! They help us print and mail lists of medications for callers seeking help with several prescriptions (our call center helps with this information over the phone, but due to the volume of calls we receive we may mail you information for long lists of medications), update information in our databases, and help mail out the NeedyMeds Drug Discount Cards. Some of our earliest volunteers had been offered paid positions in the formative years of NeedyMeds, and our incoming volunteers are anyone from high school students seeking work experience to retired individuals looking for light office work. Our volunteers’ ages range from 16 years to 97 years old. All take their work seriously and help make NeedyMeds the success it is.

 

More recently, we have started our Volunteer Ambassador Program (VAP) that allows interested advocates around the United States to help spread the word in their communities about NeedyMeds’ resources. We have Volunteer Ambassadors all over the country—from Massachusetts to California; from Macon, Alabama to Homer, Alaska—who distribute NeedyMeds Drug Discount Cards, provide presentations of NeedyMeds resources for vulnerable populations and comprehensive trainings for organizations within their communities. Many are healthcare professionals or advocates, as well as students and members of other healthcare organizations. If you are interested in becoming a Volunteer Ambassador, contact us at outreach@needymeds.org.

 

We also have a board of directors comprised of volunteers with professional backgrounds in medicine, law, nonprofit management, and local government. Our board oversees the progress being made by NeedyMeds month-to-month as well as approving budgets, plans, and strategies.

 

National Volunteer Week is a time to celebrate the impact of volunteer service in our communities. With our network of volunteers, NeedyMeds is able to accomplish much more than we would as a small nonprofit. We applaud volunteers all over the country, and thank you all for your service.

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