When we talk about “health,” we think of one’s physical health. What has become even more apparent during the pandemic is how much one’s mental health affects our physical health. They are mutually inclusive. Now that we’re finally seeing the end of the coronavirus pandemic, we’re realizing just how significant an impact the pandemic has had on mental wellbeing. In a survey conducted by KFF, 54% of adults said the pandemic negatively impacted their mental health. The number of adults in the U.S. who report having anxiety or depression has quadrupled since the start of the pandemic and more than 13% say they’ve started or increased substance use as a way to cope. Interestingly, 60% of adults in the U.S. say they experienced an undesirable weight change during the pandemic. The average weight gain was 29 pounds.
The connection between our mental and physical health cannot be overemphasized. Factors such as stress and anxiety can translate into physical ailments, causing lack of sleep, and resulting in unhealthy snacking as we reach for comfort foods. This happens even outside of a pandemic, which is why it’s critical to include mental health in any program that seeks to improve an individual’s health. To address this, Newtopia now includes PROMIS® (Patient-Reported Outcomes Measurement Information System) in its habit change program.
PROMIS is a set of person-centered measures that evaluate and monitor physical, mental, and social health in adults and children. The measures, which were developed and validated using scientific methods, were designed to enhance communication between clinicians and patients in diverse research and clinical settings. PROMIS is not a diagnostic tool, but rather a way of measuring symptoms and functions across all conditions and populations.
Newtopia has incorporated PROMIS measures for mental health, including resilience, mood, anxiety, sleep, and energy. Participants are encouraged to complete the assessment and to include the PROMIS measures alongside their other health improvement goals like exercise and nutrition. “Using the PROMIS measurements helps us create more personalized experiences for each participant,” says Karyn Hood, PhD, C Psych, Director, Behavioral Sciences at Newtopia. “The assessment is done every four months as a way to measure participants mental health changes over time.”
Once participants have completed an assessment, they meet with their health coach—what Newtopia calls an Inspirator—to discuss the results. “Inspirators talk about each measure and how the results may be impacting their health journey,” says Dr. Hood. “Inspirators and participants then discuss ways to address underlying issues impacting their mental health and strategies to cope or overcome those challenges.”
Resiliency is the capacity to quickly recover from a stressful or difficult event. PROMIS measures an individual’s confidence in their ability to manage life stressors and the ability to adapt or cope with adverse or stressful situations. Inspirators of participants who measure low in resiliency may add strategies to reduce stress as part of their experience. This could include goals around increased exercise, mindfulness meditation, or finding a new hobby. The conversation may include tactics for avoiding negative thought patterns and accepting change.
PROMIS measures for mood include things like sadness, self-criticism, loneliness, and outlook. Newtopia participants who struggle with these challenges may find it difficult to stay on track with their goals. Inspirators may include strategies for various behavioral activation that include positive rewards and increased engagement with family, friends, and support groups. They may also incorporate various types of cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) as a way to reduce negative thinking patterns.
While PROMIS is not a diagnostic tool, participants who score in the severe level on measurements like mood or anxiety may be encouraged to use their company’s EAP or mental health benefit.
The PROMIS measure for anxiety incorporates factors such as panic, worry, dread, and restlessness. Inspirators will talk with participants living with anxiety about how to recognize and counter catastrophic thinking patterns. They may also provide guidance and introduce goals around special breathing techniques, positive affirmations, and other strategies for coping.
Research suggest that up to 70 million Americans suffer from chronic sleep disorders. “The cumulative long-term effects of sleep loss and sleep disorders have been associated with a wide range of deleterious health consequences including an increased risk of hypertension, diabetes, obesity, depression, heart attack, and stroke.” PROMIS sleep measure includes things like sleep quality, difficulties getting or staying asleep, and depth of sleep. Inspirators will work with participants who struggle with poor sleep to develop healthier habits around bedtime routines such as reducing the use of electronics and improving the sleep environment. They may also include mindfulness activities like yoga or meditation, as well as strategies for creating new habits throughout the day that can impact sleep.
We all need a certain level of energy just to function in our day-to-day activities. When we struggle with fatigue, even the smallest of efforts can be exhausting. Based on a participant’s PROMIS measure results, Inspirators will incorporate goals for reducing burnout into the participant’s experience. These may include being more assertive about setting boundaries and taking time for an activity that is fulfilling. They may incorporate tactics like mindfulness meditation, avoiding multitasking, or finding a hobby.
A wholistic approach to mental and physical health
The negative emotions and stressors that have built up over the past year aren’t going to magically disappear once the pandemic has gone. There is a real danger that the impact on mental health will eventually lead to or increase chronic illnesses like obesity, hypertension, diabetes, or metabolic syndrome. To be addressed, factors impacting mental health must be identified, measured, and managed over time. Newtopia believes that the addition of PROMIS to its habit change experience will help create a more personalized experience that results in sustainable, long-term health and well-being improvements.
Learn more about Newtopia’s solutions here.