Just like with any other chronic disease, such as heart disease or asthma, treating substance use disorders and mental health problems like depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia usually doesn't provide a complete cure. According to statistics, relapse is not just possible — it’s probable.
For behavioral health, mental health, and substance use programs, keeping patients from relapsing once they leave treatment is always a major concern. In this article, we'll connect the dots between relapse prevention and patient engagement, discuss how to create a relapse prevention plan, and examine the role of alumni programs.
Relapse Prevalence in Mental Health and Substance Use
Simply stated, a relapse is a setback. A relapse in mental illness is when a patient’s condition worsens after a partial recovery. In addiction treatment, a relapse refers to resuming substance use after a period of abstinence. While different types of mental disorders have different rates of relapse, it is an almost universal part of the process. As such, behavioral health organizations are often not well equipped to address the prevalence of relapse after a patient has completed a treatment program.
Building a Relapse Prevention Plan
A relapse prevention plan is a cognitive-behavioral approach that aims to stop high-risk situations like unhealthy drug use, mental health disorders, eating disorders, and depression. It also focuses on medication adherence and risk avoidance.
To begin, a successful relapse prevention plan must identify and address relapse risk factors. There are many triggers that can lead to a relapse — some of the most common can be broken down into internal and external factors.
Internal triggers for substance use disorder relapse may include both positive and negative feelings, such as overconfidence, grief, or stress. External triggers include exposure to people, places, things, and events. Moreover, certain clinical and socio-demographics may influence relapse rates for mental health conditions. For instance, education level, current employment status, social support, medication adherence, type of insurance coverage, number of hospitalizations, severity of symptoms, and current functioning.
Developing a relapse prevention plan is highly personal and should be tailored to the patient’s specific circumstances, triggers, and needs.
A written plan can serve as a guide for patients to fall back on in times of stress, reminding them of helpful interventions. You can focus on long-term recovery by addressing their healthy lifestyle and financial goals.
A written relapse prevention plan can help keep patients accountable and focused on recovery and ongoing treatment. Make sure they have access to your peer and alumni support programs. Follow up with an appointment reminder that includes the name, address, and phone number of outpatient treatment providers.
With such varied challenges, it’s tough for behavioral health and human services providers to envision a one-size-fits-all solution. Fortunately, there’s no need for one. A highly configurable solution is better as you can make improvements, including personalization, as you move forward.
Unlike a general medical electronic health record, ContinuumCloud’s EHR makes it easy to create customized treatment plans for behavioral health workflows with specialty-specific tools. These include clinical documentation tools, treatment plan templates, common assessments, forms, and better care coordination features.
The Role of Alumni Programs in Relapse Prevention
Sometimes, organizations are not equipped to implement a comprehensive relapse prevention plan soon after their patients have completed a treatment program. However, to be most effective, relapse prevention measures must be more than an afterthought. An alumni program can make all the difference in this situation.
A group that consists of former patients of a treatment center or mental health organization is called an alumni program. Staff coordinators or volunteers sometimes lead these groups, which typically include people who have graduated from a level of care within the treatment center. Alumni programs are usually run as a free or low-cost extension of treatment with the goal of supporting graduates to meet their long-term objectives.
Alumni programs help patients stay connected with a recovery community. Such programs also let treatment centers keep in touch with patients after formal treatment is done. It’s important for a treatment center to have quality alumni programs to support its relapse prevention services.
When you have a strong alumni support program, it's easier to stay in touch with your patients. It’s also crucial to stay in touch with alumni to positively influence their behavior. With ContinuumCloud’s CaredFor mobile platform, organizations can support alumni and may protect them from relapse by including the following measures.
CaredFor features a curated content library designed with your programming strategy in mind. Your patients and alumni are going to the internet to find answers to their mental health questions. Why not be there to provide them with information from sources you trust?
Community and Peer Support
Several studies have examined the effects of peer support systems (PSS) on mental health and substance use disorders. By integrating community and peer support into case management teams, activation was improved in terms of knowledge, skills, confidence, and attitudes towards managing health and treatment. As a result, patients reported a higher quality of life.
ContinuumCloud’s CaredFor app offers peer support whenever and wherever your patient needs it. The platform enables users to share achievements and get positive feedback from a monitored platform 24/7. The app provides a safer-than-social-media environment that helps improve outcomes by keeping patients connected with each other — including alumni — throughout all levels of treatment.
Messaging and Reminders
With CaredFor, you can engage users effectively to keep them coming back throughout their recovery process. HIPAA-compliant private messaging keeps your patients up-to-date with appointment reminders, follow-up lab work, and policy changes. Plus, CaredFor’s direct channel messaging is safer than email and enables the delivery of telehealth.
Surveys can encourage self-evaluation among alumni. You can create surveys to assess relapse triggers and warning signs, such as old habits, cravings, low self-esteem, or signs of emotional relapse, mental relapse, or physical relapse (like alcohol use).
Create surveys to give and receive program feedback. For maximum engagement, design surveys that encourage micro-interactions. For instance, you can send surveys to capture potential relapse indicators, including:
- Housing status
- Health care access
- Support group
- Self-care measures
- Coping skills
- Coping strategies
- Prevention strategies
You can also create surveys that dig deeper. Craft questionnaires to learn more about the person’s existing support systems, including family members and loved ones. Of course, any surveys that require alumni to respond with personal health information should be sent using ContinuumCloud’s HIPAA-compliant communication tools, which are part of its comprehensive EHR system as well as the CaredFor patient engagement platform.
Use survey responses to keep track of short- and long-term outcomes and trends. The reporting dashboard built into ContinuumCloud's EHR also makes it easy to create clear clinical documentation that can be used to get a referral for someone to come back to the practice for treatment.
Take Control of Relapse Prevention with the CaredFor Patient Engagement Solution
Relapse is common throughout behavioral health, including mental health treatment and substance use disorder treatment. As such, many former patients will need your help again. How can you be there when they do?
Make relapse prevention part of your overall behavioral health and substance use disorder treatment strategy. You can easily create a written plan that your patients can refer to after leaving treatment, which is a solid start. However, research shows that recovering patients need more support. To learn how ContinuumCloud can help you actively engage with alumni, direct their care as needed, and improve their chance at success, connect with us today.