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Understanding Racial Trauma

Racism in America is on many minds. Minorities are often treated differently, which can lead to racial trauma, or race-based traumatic stress (RBTS).

35% of Black workers believe racial or ethnic discrimination exists in their workplace, but only 7% of white workers believe the same.

Racial trauma is the mental and emotional injury caused by encountering racial bias and ethnic discrimination. Experiencing such an encounter can lead to this trauma. If you’re not part of a minority group, it can be easy to overlook or downplay this experience. But racial trauma can have long-term detrimental psychological impacts on individuals and communities.

What can I do? Say something. If you hear someone saying something harmful, speak up. Some examples of responses to racist jokes or comments are:

  • “That’s not funny.”
  • “Help me understand your thinking.”
  • “That’s not okay with me.”
  • “We don’t say things like that here.”
  • “What you just said is harmful.”
  • “I know you were just trying to make a joke, but here’s why it was offensive…”
  • “Is the person’s race relevant to this story?”
  • “As your friend, I feel obligated to let you know that remark was racist.”
  • “I didn’t want to single you out before, but that comment made me uncomfortable. Here’s why…”
  • “I disagree. You are stereotyping…”
  • “Do you have evidence to support that belief?”

It doesn’t have to be confrontational. Offer to chat about things further and share resources. Take comfort in knowing that calling people out is never easy or comfortable, but it’s the right thing to do. Standing up against racism and showing support can help individuals and groups of people. If you or someone you know is experiencing racial trauma, there are resources to help. And if you’ve ever mistakenly said something that could be seen as racist, normalize changing your opinion when presented with new information.

Boston College Racial Trauma Toolkit
Project LETS Race and Mental Health Resource
Asian Mental Health Project

Content by Lockton Dunning Benefits with info from https://www.mhanational.org/racial-trauma, https://www.fingerprintforsuccess.com/blog/racism-in-the-workplace, and instagram.com/privtoprog

Copays, Coinsurance, and Deductibles

2023 January, Benefit Spotlight December 27, 2022
Couple reviewing insurance documents

If you’re new to having your own medical insurance plan (or maybe even if you’ve had one for a while), the terminology surrounding how much you have to pay for a given service can be confusing. Let’s look at some of the most important terms that will help you better understand your benefits:

Deductible: A deductible is a fixed amount of money that you have to pay before your insurance starts paying benefits. For example, if your deductible is $2,000, you’ll pay out-of-pocket until you reach that amount, and then your coinsurance will kick in. This amount varies by plan, but typically plans with higher monthly costs have lower deductibles and plans with lower monthly costs have higher deductibles. (Side note: some plans have separate deductibles for prescription benefits, so make sure to check your plan details for this.)

Coinsurance: Coinsurance kicks in once you’ve reached your deductible. Now whenever you have a covered medical expense, you’ll pay coinsurance, which is a set percentage of the total cost, and your insurance will pay the rest.

Copay: This is a set amount you’ll pay for a covered service and varies per service. You may pay copays before you hit your deductible and after; this varies by plan.

Out-of-pocket maximum: This one is a little more self-explanatory. Once you’ve paid this set amount out-of-pocket, your plan will pay 100% for covered services for the rest of the year. Depending on your plan, your deductible may or may not include to your out-of-pocket maximum.

Each plan has different deductibles, coinsurance, copays, and out-of-pocket maximums. It’s important to review your benefits carefully to make sure you know what you’re on the hook for when you receive medical care. Consult your summary plan description for more information.

How do deductibles, coinsurance and copays work? | bcbsm.com
Your total costs for health care: Premium, deductible, and out-of-pocket costs | HealthCare.gov

In It Together – Couples Counseling

Many people find they needed extra support in maintaining good mental health — whether that be via in-person counseling or online therapy sessions. It may not be discussed as often, but sometimes couples need a little extra help, too.

There are plenty of reasons couples may want to talk to an experienced, neutral counselor. They may have experienced conflict around significant life events like a big move or welcoming a new child to the family. Other common communication issues center on finances, parenting, or personal priorities. Couples therapy isn’t about blaming anyone – it presents opportunities to learn better communication skills, help resolve feelings of resentment or distance, and assist in finding compromise. It can help partners learn more about themselves and one another, which leads to healthier relationships on the whole.

(An important side note: Couples counseling is not recommended for couples containing an abusive partner. Bringing up the issue to a third party can often create more conflict and abuse. In this situation, individual counseling for the non-abusive partner may be a good starting point. If you are in this kind of relationship and are seeking help, please click HERE for resources.)

The great news is that many counseling providers began or expanded virtual options during 2020 and seem unlikely to move back to primarily in-person models. There are many providers to choose from (see HERE). Not all of these providers accept insurance, and some are pricier than others, so be sure to double-check before making your first appointment.

Safety Net: Healthy Online Habits for Kids

Many of us were introduced to the internet as young adults or even later in life, but it’s important to consider another group that has easy access to the internet – young children and teens.

According to 2018 Pew Research data, 95% of teenagers report having access to a smartphone, and 45% say they are online almost constantly. Younger children are also online more than they used to be. An April 2021 Pew Research study saw rising percentages of children between 5-11 using digital devices and social media sites.

While the internet can be a fantastic resource, it can also be a dangerous place for kids who don’t know better. The internet holds inappropriate content and malware, perpetuates scams and cyberbullying, and can hide sexual predators. To keep kids safe, it’s important to teach them some basic internet boundaries:

  • Keep personal information private.
  • Don’t talk to strangers or meet up with someone you’ve only met online.
  • Tell a trusted adult about inappropriate or bullying messages.
  • Don’t open emails or click links from someone you don’t know.

There are a host of websites, resources, and apps you can use to help keep your kids safe online. It’s important during this process to establish open, trusting communication with your kids. This will help them understand you’re trying to help them learn to navigate potentially treacherous waters and to feel comfortable sharing any suspicious online behavior with you.

Nutritional Boosts

Healthy Snacks like fruits and nuts

Most of us would like to eat more healthily but may not know where to start. The good news is that there are some easy dietary shifts you can utilize:

Sodas. Full-sugar sodas contain a lot of empty calories and a LOT of sugar (up to Mountain Dew’s 77 grams per 20-ounce bottle). In contrast, the American Heart Association recommends that adults limit their daily consumption to 25 to 36 grams. If you crave a sweet bubbly, try swapping out your regular soda for a reduced-sugar or sugar-free version. While they’re more expensive, there are also several kinds of low-sugar probiotic sodas or even kombucha that are delicious and good for your gut. Flavored sparkling water also gives the carbonation hit without a high dose of sugar.

Snacks. When you get hungry in the middle of the afternoon, it’s easy to reach for a bag of chips or a candy bar, but these snacks won’t do much to fuel your body. Beef jerky, low-sugar trail mix, almonds, and various fruits and vegetables will provide you with nutrients like protein, healthy fats, and fiber to nourish your body and leave you satiated for longer. (See HERE for more suggestions.)

Punch up meals. Making your diet healthier doesn’t mean you have to give up food you like. Try looking for recipes that add fruits and vegetables or lean proteins to classics, like THIS grilled cheese recipe or THIS tomato soup that doesn’t rely on heavy cream for texture. If you’re looking for easy vegetable additions to a meal, whether for yourself or any picky eaters at home, try air-frying Brussels sprouts or making your own oven-baked sweet potato fries.

While these may seem like small changes, when implemented daily, they will stack up quickly. All it takes is a few adjustments to your grocery list and a little dedication.

Break the Cycle: Managing OCD

Have you ever seen someone perform a specific, repetitive motion and then laugh it off by saying “I’m so OCD”? While repetitive motions are often a symptom of OCD, or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, OCD isn’t anything to laugh about.

It is estimated to be present in 2-3% of the population and is characterized by cycles of obsessions, anxiety, compulsions, and relief. Below are common examples of intrusive, obsessive thoughts and compulsions:

  • Fears about germs, disease, or hygiene
  • Having unwanted, disturbing thoughts
  • Fears about harming yourself or others
  • Repeated cleaning rituals (e.g., washing hands repeatedly, disinfecting doorknobs)
  • Repeating words or phrases mentally
  • Ordering or arranging things

Performing these actions can sometimes bring brief relief from the anxiety that the obsessions and compulsions create, but it often doesn’t last. People who have OCD often struggle to know whether the compulsive activities they undertake are reasonable or not.

There are multiple ways to treat OCD, but the most common, effective treatment is a combination of therapy and medication. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is often used to help give people with OCD better coping skills to manage their obsessions and compulsions, and by extension to relieve their anxiety. Exposure and response prevention is a specific kind of CBT that works by exposing someone with OCD to things that make them anxious a little bit at a time to help them learn to respond in healthier ways. Antidepressants are often the first line of medication used for OCD. This isn’t because OCD corresponds with depression, but because it has been demonstrated that these medications work well for OCD too.

If any of these symptoms sound familiar to you and are causing significant distress and/or disruption to your daily life, talk to your primary care physician. They can help you take next steps toward testing, diagnosis, and treatment.

International OCD Foundation | How is OCD Treated? (iocdf.org)
Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) Medication & Treatment Options (webmd.com)

Early Intervention: Learning Disabilities

Children are full of wonder and potential, wired to learn rapidly in their early years. Sometimes, however, kids have trouble learning and need a little extra help to get on track.

There are many factors that may cause learning disabilities, such as genetics, family history, physical or psychological trauma, or environmental factors. Learning disabilities can apply to any number of skills learned in childhood, but the following are three of the most common.

Dysgraphia is a disability in which kids have trouble writing letters or numbers clearly and legibly. This can impact a child’s ability to learn to read, write, or do math.

Dyslexia is a similar condition in which children struggle to recognize words or spell correctly, which can impact a child’s reading ability.

Dyscalculia affects a child’s ability to understand and recognize numbers and mathematical concepts. This makes learning advanced math later in school very difficult for children.

If your child is struggling with reading, writing, or math, it is important to address this sooner than later. These learning disabilities may impact their ability to learn more advanced concepts later on, and lead to higher rates of anxiety and depression. You can raise your concerns with your child’s doctor, who will likely first test to make sure your child does not have vision or hearing problems.

If it is determined your child has a learning disability, there are multiple ways to get help. Tutors and specialists can help your child learn techniques to work with their learning disability. If your child is school-aged, talk to their teachers about getting an IEP, or Individualized Educational Program, which will help set learning goals and strategies for your child. Occupational therapy may also be useful in helping your child learn to work with their learning disability.

Learning disorders: Know the signs, how to help – Mayo Clinic
Types of Learning Disabilities – Learning Disabilities Association of America (ldaamerica.org)

The Buzz on CBD

Over the last few years, you may have noticed a rash of stores opening that sell CBD products, touting their health benefits. CBD is an ingredient in cannabis (marijuana). However, unlike THC, which is the substance in marijuana that can get you “high,” CBD is not psychoactive or intoxicating. It is also legal to varying extents in all fifty states. While some may claim an outlandish number of benefits that can be derived from CBD, some positive effects have scientific studies backing them.

CBD is said to help with anxiety, and one small study indicates that a certain measured dose of CBD oil can do just that. More studies and human trials are underway to confirm this effect.

Directly related, some small studies have indicated that CBD may help ease the effects of post-traumatic stress disorder when coupled with therapy.

Other small studies show that topical application of CBD may help reduce physical pain, particularly for people suffering chronic, non-cancer pain.

The best-studied and scientifically established use of CBD is to treat certain kinds of epileptic seizures. Based on several large studies that demonstrated CBD’s effectiveness, the FDA approved the first medication to include cannabinoids in 2018.

While there appear to be many possible benefits to taking CBD, there is a risk of side effects, which can include nausea, liver injury, fatigue, and irritability. CBD can also interact with other medications, so if you take CBD regularly or are thinking about starting, talk to your doctor first to make sure it is a safe and healthy choice for you.

Cannabidiol (CBD): What we know and what we don’t – Harvard Health
CBD Oil: 9 Science-Backed Benefits – Forbes Health
CBD: Health Benefits, Risks, Dosage, and More (webmd.com)

Tobacco Surcharges Burn

2022 November, Benefit Spotlight September 26, 2022

It’s that time of year for benefits enrollment, and many people have gotten materials outlining the next year’s benefits. Some of you may notice a line item in your medical benefits page that reads “Tobacco Surcharge.”

By the terms of the Affordable Care Act, group health plans and self-insured employers can upcharge tobacco users up to 50% for their health insurance premiums. (Tobacco use in this case includes smoking, vaping, and chewing tobacco.) Why do some plans include this surcharge? It hasn’t been a mystery for decades that tobacco use is bad for the human body. It is responsible for nearly half a million deaths in the US each year and is the leading preventable cause of disease and death.

Not only is tobacco use harmful and potentially fatal, it is expensive. The CDC estimates that smoking-related illness costs more than $300 billion dollars annually in the U.S., including both medical care and for lost productivity. Group health plans and employers include this surcharge both to help cover tobacco-related medical expenses and to encourage people to quit using tobacco products.

However, if an employer plan implements a tobacco surcharge, it must also provide a tobacco cessation program. If you are a tobacco user and want to quit and to avoid the surcharge, you can sign up for a tobacco cessation program, or, in some cases, submit confirmation of being under a physician’s care for tobacco or nicotine use to HR. To find out exactly what you need to do to avoid the surcharge, talk to your Human Resources Department.

What is a Tobacco Surcharge and How Does My Company Offer One? (theexprogram.com)
What You Need to Know About Smoking and Health Insurance | HealthMarkets
Economic Trends in Tobacco | Smoking & Tobacco Use | CDC

Virtual Mental Health

Online therapy existed before 2020, but as it became clear how vital these services were, more insurance providers began covering them. Here are a handful of online therapy providers that stand out both for their quality of service and because they accept many insurance plans.

Talkspace accepts multiple insurance carriers and offers therapy for teens, couples, and individuals, as well as medication management. You can get started by taking a brief evaluation that will offer you several therapists from whom to choose. One of Talkspace’s main perks is that you can communicate with your therapist at any time of day and are guaranteed a daily response. Talkspace has several monthly subscription plans that include a variety of communication options.

Another option is Doctor on Demand. They do not offer subscription plans, but 82% of users said their insurance coverage helped with costs. You can read different therapist biographies and choose yours. Like Talkspace, Doctor on Demand offers medication management services.

You may be familiar with Teladoc as the people you call when you’ve got a sinus infection or a cold and need a quick virtual visit, but they also offer mental health services. Teladoc provides audio and video session options with both therapists and psychiatrists.

There are many additional companies that provide virtual mental health and take insurance – see HERE to investigate more options. Coverage varies by plan, so make sure to check your plan details to see what coverage you have or if your plan has a preferred provider. Many of these providers also accept cash payment if your plan doesn’t cover them. Help is available with just a click!

How to Find Online Therapy That Takes Your Insurance (healthline.com)
Best Online Therapy with Insurance of 2022 (verywellmind.com)