Yanny vs. Laurel: Does it Matter?

Surely you’ve heard of the Yanny vs. Laurel controversy? A computer-generated voice has become perhaps the most divisive subject on the Internet since the gold/blue dress flap posted three years ago. But which is it – Yanny?….. as most of us seem to hear? …… Or is the voice saying, “Laurel”?

I’d like to make the case that there is no real right or wrong answer because it depends on how we hear the recording individually. Yes, even in today’s global village, the fact is we are still individuals, and as such, it stands to reason that no two people are going to hear (or see) the same thing. (Surely you’ve heard of the Rorschach inkblot test?)

Consider how diverse political views can be on the same topic… Do we need to vastly reduce the number of guns to slow down the disturbing number of mass shootings in our society? Or is the problem much deeper-rooted than that, in which limiting guns would only be the tip of the iceberg? Is a border wall needed to reduce the number of drug runners and illegal aliens coming in to the US? Or is this an example of racial and ethnic discrimination at its worst? I could go on and on and on.

The point is, I think, we all tend to hear things a little differently, filtering our own experiences, and yes biases, into the equation. It reminds me of when I was a newspaper reporter and covered the construction of a proposed Target distribution center near Oconomowoc, Wis. The argument went back and forth….would the center damage the environment? (A “Yanny” of its day). Or would that effect be negligible, in favor of the “greater good” – adding hundreds of good-paying jobs to the area. (the flip side or “Laurel” of the issue).

Try as I did to be objective, which was the order of the day in journalism back then, the fact was that I grew up in a small Wisconsin city that had seen hundreds of layoffs in the 1980s. Having witnessed firsthand the economic devastation the vast loss of jobs had on my hometown, it was very difficult for me to see what was wrong with adding lots of good-paying jobs to the Oconomowoc area!

I understood the need to put some environmental precautions into the equation in order to minimize pollution. (My wife and I enjoy the outdoors and like to camp, and so I like to think I got that.)

But when the center cleared the environment impact statement hurdle, what was wrong with proceeding at that point? The environmental side continued to cry, “Foul!” As a reporter, I had to cover that part of the story, but I sure didn’t get it!

The point is, we all filter our beliefs and experiences into what it is that we are hearing. In this case, the “Yannys” of the issue said the center was a bad thing because of the pollution it would add to the environment. Conversely, the “Laurels” said the economic boon outweighed any potential pitfalls.

And the Yanny vs. Laurel recording controversy? For the record, I just hear “Yanny.” As I say, it all depends on the individual.

For more on the Yanny/Laurel illusion, see https://www.cnet.com/news/yanny-vs-laurel-illusion-heres-why-were-hearing-different-words/


When it’s the Helpers Who Need Help

Individuals in the helping professions deserve a big round of applause for all of the good that they do. But what do they do when they’re the ones who need the help, even more than the persons they are helping? What then?

The following is part of a self-test to help gauge whether you might be suffering from compassion fatigue or burnout. However, it is not intended as a substitute for medical advice or diagnosis. Consult a physician or mental health professional to discuss the results.

(Write in the number of the best response to each of the following questions using one of the following answers: 1 – rarely or never; 2 – at times; 3 – not sure; 4 – often; 5 – very often.)

  1. I force myself to avoid certain thoughts or feelings that remind me of a frightening experience.
  2. I avoid certain activities or situations because they remind me of a frightening experience.
  3. I have gaps in my memory about frightening events.
  4. I feel isolated from others.
  5. I have difficulty falling or staying asleep.
  6. I have outbursts of anger or irritability with little provocation.
  7. I startle easily.
  8. While working with a victim I thought about violence against the person(s) who victimized.
  9. I am a sensitive person.
  10. I’ve had flashbacks connected to clients and families.

For the remainder of this 40-question quiz, and scoring instructions, see the May Employee Assistance Report newsletter. For a complimentary copy, email mjacquart@writeitrightllc.com. To subscribe, visit www.writeitrightllc.com.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more at http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/may


The Role of Exercise in Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

I am not a clinician or a dietitian, but I do know from my own experiences that exercise plays a role in our mental health – perhaps an important one.

I suffered from depression a good portion of the past year, but even during my darkest days I was often successful at finding time to exercise – more specifically, riding my bicycle. My line of thinking was, there were a LOT of things out of my control, but one thing I DID have control over, was whether or not to ride my bike. I felt that if I did not accomplish anything else that particular day, I could at the very least say that I got some exercise on my bike. I had a number of bike routes; the shortest was about 3 miles, while my longest was around 14. I’d say I averaged 5 miles a day, usually 4-5 days a week.

The Huffington Post lists 13 mental health benefits of exercise at https://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/03/27/mental-health-benefits-exercise_n_2956099.html. I don’t particularly agree with all of them, but I definitely concur with some, namely:

* Exercise reduces stress. Many studies allude to this. For one thing, exercise increases concentrations of norepinephrine, a chemical that can moderate the brain’s response to stress. As much stress as most of us seem to be under in today’s fast-paced society, it would seem that stress-reduction alone is a good reason to exercise.

* Enjoy the great outdoors. I am very fortunate to live in a small community where a quarter-mile or so out of town, I can be biking near the woods and often sight animals such as deer, turkey, and others. I also like riding a stationary bike indoors when it’s cold, rainy, or snowy out, but taking in the great outdoors is definitely one of the best parts about bike riding. Let’s face it, for Northerners like myself, indoor exercise alone can get rather dull until the temps warm up this time of year. One more benefit: You notice a LOT more of your surroundings when you’re going much slower, on a bike, as opposed to whizzing by on the same roads with your car.

* Boost happy chemicals. As I mentioned, I think this is THE most important, and yet overlooked, reason to exercise! “Exercise releases endorphins, which create feelings of happiness and euphoria. Studies have shown that exercise can even alleviate symptoms among the clinically depressed. For this reason, docs recommend that people suffering from depression or anxiety (or those who are just feeling blue) pencil in plenty of gym time. In some cases, exercise can be just as effective as antidepressant pills in treating depression.” (Italics mine; the effects of exercise may vary widely from person to person.)

*Increase creativity. Not feeling inspired in your cubicle? Sometimes a break in routine such as going for a walk, bike ride, or gardening, for starters, can be relaxing enough so that ideas that were simply not coming to light sitting at a keyboard, just might pop into your brain when you’re out and about, doing something.

* Don’t worry about not exercising a lot. Some people get the notion that if they’re not big exercise enthusiasts, exercising isn’t worth it. Not true! Studies have shown that exercising for just 30 minutes several times a week can boost overall mood.

So there you have it. Get out there and exercise – the benefits are mental as well as physical. If someone who can sometimes be content being a couch potato like me can do it, anyone can. Like a lot of things, it’s often a case of mind over matter, and your mind matters.


Mental Health Issues Increasing

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

A recently released survey from Aon Employee Benefits, the UK health and benefits business of Aon, showed a disturbingly sharp increase in the number of employers reporting employee stress and mental health-related illnesses — from 55 percent last year to 68 percent in 2018.

On a more positive note, the survey also revealed that employers are investing more in proactive initiatives including mental health first aid training which teaches managers and staff how to detect the signs and symptoms of common mental health issues, provide support and guide a person to seek professional help and gain resilience coaching. Employer investment in proactive initiatives to tackle mental health and stress have increased to 42 percent from 36 percent in the previous year.

The survey also showed that more employers are providing health and well-being apps, jumping from 21 percent to 48 percent in the year.

Most Call EAP for Mental Health Help

Nearly three-quarters (70%) of employees have called their organization’s employee assistance program (EAP) for help with mental health problems, according to research by Unum.

Unum’s analysis of the 12,610 calls made to its EAP service, provided in conjunction with Lifeworks, between December 1, 2016 and November 30, 2017 also found that of the calls relating to mental health problems, 66% were for anxiety and depression, 13% regarded problems caused by relationship issues and 9% related to bereavement.

The research also found:

* 60% of employees who phoned the EAP for mental health problems were offered counseling and 97% were offered an initial appointment within five days. In total, 17,335 counseling sessions were provided between 1 December 2016 and 30 November 2017.

* 92% of employees who were provided with access to counseling support as a result of calling the EAP service saw their mental health improve.

“EAPs are a first line of defense for employers and line managers in protecting the well-being of their staff,” said Ambika Fraser, head of propositions at Unum. “They provide fast, confidential solutions to all kinds of problems from mental health to debt and relationship worries that could otherwise quickly escalate and impact productivity.”

Is Napping Really So Bad?

As I considered what I would write about for the 501st post on this blog, I was thinking of an earth-shattering or particularly newsworthy topic. Except that the subject that’s been repeatedly popping into my head has been “napping” and so I thought I would address the need many of us have to get a tad more sleep during the week. Admit it, napping is something you’d probably like to do more of, right?

The Spanish tradition of an afternoon nap dates back thousands of years, according to the National Sleep Foundation. Historians believe it originated to give farmers time to rest and restore energy in hot climates, but now Spain, Italy and other European countries use the midday pause to go home, eat a leisurely lunch with family and often nap. Early afternoon is a time when many people’s bodies naturally get tired, so some sleep experts suggest siestas for people in other countries, including the US.

The Japanese practice of inemuri, or sleeping while present, allows people to multitask, according to the New York Times. Dozing is sometimes done on a park bench or a commuter train, at a dinner party or even during a meeting at work. In a culture that values diligence, napping in public is taken as a sign that a person is tired from working hard but still wants to participate in their current situation.

So if the hardworking Japanese can nap, why do so many people in the US think it’s a sign of being lazy or a slacker? For one thing, many cultures in which people take naps in the middle of the day do so because it’s too hot at that time of day to do much else where they live, which is not the case for most of the United States.

Secondly, most employers, and people in general, in the US have very different, and incorrect, ideas about sleep and productivity. People get tired in the afternoon, but most folks in the US think that it’s due to eating lunch when that isn’t exactly the case. Your body’s circadian rhythm – otherwise known as your sleep/wake cycle – is basically a 24-hour internal clock that is running in the background of your brain and cycles between sleepiness and alertness at regular intervals. While this varies from person to person, most of us have a natural lull in energy between 1 and 3 in the afternoon.

I’m still surprised that people are put off by napping. We’ve got great research supporting the fact that naps can help corporations and employees..

As a result, napping should NOT be equating as slacking! It’s natural for our bodies to want a break during the middle of the day! Fortunately, offering employees a space to catch a mid-day siesta is now becoming a common amenity for companies looking to position themselves as progressive, dynamic places to work – almost as attractive as the office coffee machine, yet perhaps more beneficial. In fact, a 2008 study demonstrated that a power nap is more effective than caffeine.

Although napping is becoming a more popular employee perk in some industries, there’s still a great deal of resistance in the corporate world towards sleeping on the job, according to Terry Cralle, a certified sleep expert.

“I’m still surprised that people are put off by napping,” she states. “We’ve got great research supporting the fact that naps can help corporations and employees, yet we still feel reluctant to make it an acceptable part of a healthy lifestyle and a healthy workday.”

Indeed: On many occasions when I’m writing or editing and have a hard time concentrating on the task at hand, I find that a short nap will leave me refreshed and ready to go again. What makes more sense, not getting much done because we’re too drowsy to be productive, or taking a little siesta and being able to step it back up a notch for the remainder of the day? Even coffee can only do so much.

Pleasant dreams.

500 Posts! What’s Next?

This is the FIVE-HUNDREDTH post on this blog! That’s the equivalent of writing a blog post each day for a year, and then a quarter of the way through the next year! It doesn’t seem like all that long ago that I started this blog in 2011. I am not very tech-savvy compared to many people, so I was rather proud of the fact I didn’t need much help to get it up and running. Word Press helped, too.

There have been a number of changes to this blog since that time. For starters, the emphasis has changed from employee assistance, job training and placement, and child care topics to a blog written for EA and HR professionals. Formerly known as Impact Publishing, the name was changed to elevating EAP awareness to reflect this change.

There have been posts by guest bloggers, who are always welcome; to posts on the importance of sleep, mental health, financial wellness, volunteering, and scores of others. I have tried to be timely by tying in observances like Mental Health Awareness Month (noted in May) and additional anniversaries.

On other occasions, I have shared life lessons I’ve learned about mental health and workplaces. I also “cross pollinate” a number of the posts on Linked In. I even mourned the loss of a pet in a post that was not easy to write, but felt I needed to share given how many of us love our furry friends.

Some of my favorite posts include, but are not limited to: Workplace Culture MATTERS, We can Learn a Lot from Our Dogs, The Invisible Barrier, Fake News, Biased News: Bad Journalism has Spread like a Wildfire, Five Ways to Create a Post-Election Culture of Respect, Letting Go is Never Easy, You Can’t Do Face to Face on a Computer, Mental Health IS HEALTH!, What’s Wrong with a Gap Year, and Raising Awareness of Your EAP (which is also available as a presentation). While the majority of posts aren’t nearly as widely read as I’d like, the “Gap Year” post attracted more than 1,000 readers!

The only thing I haven’t enjoyed about writing a blog is the lack of feedback I often receive. I do my best to write interesting posts about life and work, but sometimes it’s a real shot in the dark without readers sharing their ideas about topics they’d like to see. I know everyone is busy these days, so tell you want, comment on a particular post, this blog in general, or anything in between, and I’ll enter your name in a drawing for a FREE Netflix card worth $30!

Happy reading.

Let’s Keep the Dialogue Going: April is Sexual Awareness Month

As this blog nears 500 posts, we have recognized some previous submissions, however, post #499 is a NEW article on another important topic – sexual awareness. Many thanks to Pat Herlihy for accepting my invitation into the “blogosphere.”

By Guest Blogger Patricia Herlihy, Ph.D., RN

On April 1, 2001 the U.S. first observed Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM), which originated back in England in the late 1970s. Around that time period women in England held protests against the violence they encountered as they walked the streets at night. They called them “Take Back the Night” marches. In 1978, San Francisco and New York City held their first Take Back the Night events and over time in the U.S. sexual assault awareness activities grew to include the issues of sexual violence against men.

In the US the number of women who experience some form of sexual violence in their lifetime is about 1in 5:  Men about 1 in 70. Over the last 6–18 months there has been a flurry of news events that concern major figure heads such as Harvey Weinstein, Matt Lauer, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly and the list goes on and on of males who have been fired and held to task for major sexual misconduct. Out of these revelations have grown the “MeToo” Movement and the “Times Up Fund” as well as a growing national dialogue about concerns regarding these issues.

The question that seems to be bubbling at the moment is whether these movements can be sustained over time. How do we move forward from these highly publicized situations to the overall issue of sexual violence in our society?

The National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVR), which hosts Sexual Awareness Month is encouraging four points this April:

* Embrace your voice

* Every day consent

* Healthy communication with kids

* General understanding of sexual violence

At the same time, we need to educate young people what the concept of ‘consent’ really means. Sometimes off colored jokes or missteps in making sexual advances is easily addressed with simple and direct education.

NSVR is supporting the broadening of the national dialogue on this topic. We need to continually support victims/survivors to find their voices and find ways to safely speak their truth. At the same time, we need to educate young people what the concept of ‘consent’ really means. Sometimes off colored jokes or missteps in making sexual advances is easily addressed with simple and direct education. This is especially true on our college campuses as well as in the workplace.  And education should start early with ongoing honest discussions with our children about sexuality and all the choices involved around exploring their own sexual lives.

Perhaps the biggest message here for all of us is to really understand what “sexual violence” actually means…. Sexual Awareness Month is exactly what it says…. A time to encourage all of us to think about this topic in terms of our own behavior as well as friends, family & colleagues and keep the national dialogue moving forward to find better ways to both educate and support those who may be struggling with this issue.

Understanding Sexual Violence Tip Sheet:


The Invisible Barrier

As this blog nears 500 posts, we have recognized some previous submissions. Post #498 touches base on another topic this blog has covered in the past, which remains terribly important today – mental health. (This particular post also serves as a prelude to Mental Health Awareness Month, which is observed in May.) This is a condensed version of a post that originally appeared on May 5, 2015. For more information, scroll to the post from this date in the appropriate month and year noted at left.

Many disabilities are readily apparent. There’s no question that an individual who is blind requires the use of a cane or service animal to get around or that a person unable to walk will need a wheelchair or motor scooter. However, other disabilities aren’t as obvious. Mental health impairments are among the most “invisible” and least understood disabilities, even though they are also among the most common.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 58 million Americans, or one in four adults, experience a mental health impairment in a given year. NAMI defines a mental health impairment as, “a medical condition that disrupts a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning.”

I whole heartedly encourage ANYONE who even suspects something might be amiss with themselves mentally (or someone they know for that matter) to get checked out! It is a tremendous shame that bias and stigma remain barriers to mental health that need to be overcome.

People wouldn’t leave a broken arm or a sprained ankle unattended, so why do some folks (men especially) feel that mental health is something they can just “tough out”?! You can no more resolve depression or other disorders than you could that untreated arm or ankle! Mental health IS health! And in this day and age, help is just a mouse click or download of an app away.

Mental Health America offers a tool-kit that includes fact sheets, a poster, calendar of mental health tips, materials to use with the media and on social media, and more! Download an overview at: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/sites/default/files/MHA%20B4Stage4%20Overview.pdf

Other resources include:

National Alliance on Mental Illnesshttp://www.nami.org

Carson J Spencer Foundationhttp://www.carsonjspencer.org

MentalHealth.gov –  http://www.mentalhealth.gov

Active Mindshttp://www.activeminds.org/issues-a-resources/mental-health-resources

Let’s Arm Our Educators – With Information

As this blog nears 500 posts, we will recognize some past posts in the coming weeks. Post #497 touches base on a topic that was also being discussed in April 2013, what to do about the number of tragic shootings in schools? This is a condensed version of posts that originally appeared in April 12 and April 15, 2013. For more information, scroll to the posts from these dates in the appropriate month and year noted at left.

By Dr. Mariam Azin, Guest Blogger

Can guns in the classroom prevent the next school shooting tragedy? The National Rifle Association has proposed arming teachers as a deterrent to the next Adam Lanza or T.J. Lane. While school districts will need to find the security solutions that they and their communities are comfortable with, I’d like to see our teachers, principals and staff armed with something potentially more powerful — the tools and information to identify students who are headed for a mental health crisis.

We can—and should—talk about appropriate security precautions. But this addresses only one piece of the problem. If we could make our schools perfectly secure, a troubled student intent on homicide would then take his weapon to the theater, the mall or the public park. We need to figure out how to prevent these kinds of attacks from happening at all, without turning ourselves into a police state.

The way to do this is to focus on early identification of students who are showing signs of risk, and establishing a strong referral and monitoring program to make sure that students in need of mental health services actually receive and benefit from them. It’s not enough to simply log an incident report and walk away. We need to ask what kind of services does the student need? The family? And make sure they have access to appropriate resources. And then we need to follow up, to make sure that the connection was made and interventions are working. If they’re not, we need to try something else.

 Why should schools be involved in the identification and referral process? Because that’s where the students are. Our high schools and colleges are the front lines, and the last place where we will have young people all gathered together. We cannot count on every family being able to recognize potential problems and self-refer. But we can train our teachers, school counselors and administrators to do a better job of recognizing emerging issues, and give them the tools and resources they need for appropriate identification, referral and management of school- and community-based resources.

We can—and should—talk about appropriate security precautions. But this addresses only one piece of the problem.

We may not be able to rescue every future Adam Lanza from the demons within. But recognizing and treating signs of dangerous mental illness at the onset will do more to keep our communities safe than all the guns, locks and metal detectors our money can buy.

Dr. Mariam Azin holds a doctorate in applied social psychology and has more than 20 years’ experience in educational research and evaluation. At the time of this writing, she was the principal investigator on numerous large-scale evaluation efforts related to at-risk learners; curriculum and instruction; educational technology; and community programs spanning mental health, substance use and criminal justice. In 2012 she founded Mazin Educationwww.mazineducation.com  – an educational company focused on software solutions that help schools to better assess, identify and serve at-risk students.  

Fake News Travels Fast – too Fast

Ever hear the adage, “A lie travels around the globe while the truth is putting on its shoes”? It’s certainly true in this fast-paced day and age – a little too true in fact.

A recent study at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found that false information on social media travels six times faster than the truth and reaches more people. Researchers at MIT examined more than 126,000 stories between 2006 and the end of 2016 and found that “fake news” sped through Twitter “farther, faster, deeper and more broadly” than the truth in all information categories, according to the study in the journal, Science.

The scientists calculated that the average false story takes roughly 10 hours to reach 1,500 Twitter users, versus about 60 hours for the truth. On average, false information reaches 35 percent more people than actual news. Moreover, while actual news stories almost never got retweeted to 1,000 people, the top 1 percent of the false ones reached as many as 100,000 people.

What does this all mean? For starters, it means if you get the bulk of your news through social media channels, you’re only getting half the story – and that’s an optimistic estimate.

Last year, I wrote a post, “Fake News, Biased News: Bad Journalism has Spread like a Wildfire”, in which I pointed out that news today is far too instantaneous. Ryan Holiday, a media columnist and author of Ego is the Enemy, was quoted as saying: “You cannot have your news instantly and have it done well. You cannot have your news reduced to 140 characters or less without losing large parts of it.”

I worked as a newspaper reporter for 10 years in the late 1980s and 1990s – and back then, if you made a mistake in an article, you were required to run a retraction in the next edition. You didn’t like having to do it, but you admitted to your error and moved on. But where is the accountability today? As noted earlier, a “retweet” won’t even reach 1,000 users, while the leading false tweets reach 100,000 people. In other words, many more people will read false information than read an online “retraction” of sorts.

You cannot have your news instantly and have it done well.

What’s more, in many instances “fake” news isn’t necessarily false on purpose, but the meaning gets lost when the message itself is either too short (such as 140 characters in a Tweet), or people fail to read the entire post (article). In a recent post, I noted that far too many people outsource the maintenance of their cars, computers, and home repairs. It was pointed out to me that most equipment today is too sophisticated for the average person to use, as opposed to the days when knowing how to turn a screwdriver or a wrench was often enough to fix a given item.

True enough, but the post went on to say that because the demand for skilled labor far exceeds the supply, many college students are MUCH better off pursuing a 1- or 2-year degree in what some refer to as “the trades” than a 4-year program in a major that is not in demand (i.e. few jobs). Reading this part of the article was, as Paul Harvey used to say, “The rest of the story.”

And so, I highly encourage anyone reading anything online to not take it as the gospel truth, because all too often it isn’t! Use a site like PolitiFact or Snopes to check out the accuracy of the article. Or consider another point of view. For instance, if you’re a liberal, it wouldn’t kill you to read something on a site like Town hall.com from time to time. Of course, the reverse is also true – if you’re a conservative and never read The Atlantic or the New York Times, you’re not being remotely objective either. The point is, know both sides of a given topic and come to your own conclusion. That’s what reporting used to entail.

Oh, and that quote I mentioned at the beginning of this article? Turns out that while that saying has largely been attributed to Mark Twain, others claim it was first said by, among others, Jonathan Swift, C.H. Spurgeon, possibly even Thomas Jefferson. So don’t believe everything you read.