Before Rich Jones was tapped to lead a new, innovative platform at Heritage Health Solutions, he dealt with an addiction to opiates and went through the process of recovery. Now, he helps lead the fight for better mental health care with Heritage CARES.
Jones now holds the title of therapist, clinician, and healthcare entrepreneur, with more than twenty years of experience in behavioral health. He also serves as Executive Vice President and Director of Heritage CARES, a division of Heritage Health Solutions. “CARES” stands for Comprehensive Addiction Recovery Education & Support.
Jones says everyone at Heritage CARES has experienced addiction and successfully recovered. Still, it is more than just that first-hand knowledge that makes the Heritage CARES program unique.
The Dallas Express (DE) recently sat down with Rich Jones (RJ) to discuss the Heritage CARES approach.
DE: Has there been a shift in people seeking support with their mental health, and if so, what has changed in how you approach that support?
R.J.: It’s really hard to find a therapist these days, and I think the reason is twofold, [mental health] just got too hard to ignore. [First,] people sat with themselves, and these problems just bubbled up. [However,] it got so significant and intense that people started to seek support.
The second thing is — and it’s good news — we are finally talking about it as a country. For example, this weekend, I was watching football, and frequently commercials would come on about mental health saying, “if you’re struggling, it’s okay to reach out.”
That is new and hasn’t been the case [previously]. It’s not where we need to be, but it’s getting better.
DE: Do you think the stigma of therapy is finally lifting?
RJ: For sure, it’s finally lifting on mental health.
During the Olympics, for example, Simone Biles…she gets out in front [of the world], she was named Time Magazine’s Athlete of the Year, and it wasn’t because she won five gold medals…it was because she had enough courage to step forward and say, “I’m not competing because I’m not feeling it, my mental health is not where it needs to be,”
My goodness! That is absolutely a game-changer when something like that happens! And then you see all these commercials where famous people are coming out and saying, “Yeah, I’m dealing with this.” The world is changing in that regard.
DE: What type of issues are people coming to get support for?
RJ: It’s without question depression, anxiety, and what I would call post-traumatic stress disorder [regarding] the pandemic.
I believe that the pandemic created a collective sense of trauma and a collective sense of stress in all of us, and [we’re] seeing the fallout from that.
There’s been a massive increase in the number of substances being used. Online sales of alcohol went up by 700% during the pandemic. Now, that doesn’t mean it’s diagnosable [in people] or that it’s alcoholism, but there’s an increase in that area as well that we need to take a look at.
DE: What Makes Heritage CARES different from other virtual health services?
R.J.: The first thing is we provide confidential, anonymous education and support through the [Heritage CARES] platform that we call YouTurn.
This is an educational learning management system, so it’s like Netflix for recovery. There’s a lot of videos that explain what a person [might be] dealing with. It explains various conditions, [so if you’re feeling something] and you don’t know what it’s called or you don’t know what to make of it, we provide an objective, safe place where people can go and learn.
We know a lot of people can get better via that self-help model.
The second thing is coaching, and it’s very important and intentional.
We didn’t want to create just another therapy company because we believe there is something [that lies] between therapy and nothing. Maybe you don’t want to talk to a therapist right now, maybe you don’t want to have a diagnosis, but you do need to talk to someone trained and supportive, and that’s where the coaching aspect comes in.
By putting these two things together, you have a learning management system that combines early intervention, education, and a coach to help you through it all. Using this approach, we’ve been able to help people who aren’t quite ready to go all-in, but they are ready to start receiving help.
DE: In your opinion, is virtual care as good as face-to-face therapy?
RJ: I think the world is still caught up in thinking that things need to be face to face. However, within my non-profit work and my private practice, the overwhelming majority of people are fine with a phone call or a telehealth session and get just as much out of it, myself included.
Now, are there situations where you have to be face to face? Absolutely. I’m in no way discounting that. I think there will always be a place for that, but if you think about all the people that are not getting help, it’s tailor-made for telehealth, and I think it’s here to stay. [Face-to-face therapy] is old school, and whether or not you like telehealth is beside the point because it’s the wave of the future.
People are not going to drive over to my office when they can jump on their computer…it’s so much more convenient, and even the stigma of going to a therapist is eliminated. There’s a silver lining from the pandemic; it’s shown that virtual care is a viable option, and I think insurance will reimburse people for these services. Why not move to that type of model?
DE: What should employers consider when it comes to the mental health of their employees?
R.J.: Mental health awareness, mental health support, substance use disorder support, it all should be commonplace [in the workplace], and it shouldn’t be a matter of just identifying the folks who put up their hands and say, “I have something wrong with me.” It should be woven into the culture.
For example, mandatory training on mental health awareness, webinars to talk about stress management and substance use, mental health issues…you could create a culture within your organization where it was okay to talk about this stuff.
We need to overexpose it because we know that we have some work to do to dig out of the stigma. Two things would happen: people would get help sooner, and then all those people that were never going to get help and never talk about it [in the first place] … [may] open their minds to help.
DE: What would you say to the person who says, “I don’t need counseling” or the person who is considering it but doesn’t feel their problem needs professional help?
RJ: For the people who are considering [therapy] but not sure what to do yet, the first thing I would say is it’s not as overwhelming as you might think in your mind. It is not this experience of what you see on TV. There are many different ways to get help, and you owe it to yourself to go ahead and reach out.
If you’re that far in a process where you’re thinking about [getting help], go ahead and take the steps to get the necessary help. You will not regret it.
I’ve never known anybody who’s come to me for mental health help or a substance abuse disorder [to] say, “Boy wish I didn’t do that.” [Therapy is] one of those things that, once you know [what it’s like], most people find it very useful.
To the folks who say, “I don’t have a problem,” or “it doesn’t apply to me,” I would challenge that right off the rip. I simply don’t buy it. If you look at surveys and statistics, there’s an overwhelming majority of us, at some time in our life, who struggle with some type of mental health or substance use for stress-related issues.
The other thing to think about is how we deal with physical health. Have you ever noticed we’re always talking about getting to the gym or changing what we eat to a [healthier] diet…what if we took the same approach with our mental health?
We should be asking ourselves; how can I improve my mental health? I have to do things every day for my physical health. I have to exercise, I have to watch what I eat, I have to take my medication, whatever it might be. It’s the same thing for mental health, you can’t neglect it.
DE: How is Heritage CARES inserting itself in the Dallas community and working to bring awareness about mental health to the forefront?
R.J.: It’s our goal to redefine substance misuse, suicide, and stress management, and the way that it’s handled in our country, and so it starts with Dallas.
We want the Dallas area to be known as the Silicon Valley of behavioral health. We’re looking for early adopters, early partners to join Heritage CARES, and use what we have to offer.
We’ve got to do something different in the country, and we think Heritage CARES is where it starts.
End of Interview.
Heritage CARES has started work in Dallas by partnering with Taylor’s Gift, a non-profit that helps families deal with the loss of a loved one whose organs have been donated to save others’ lives.
Taylor’s Gift offers a free program called Kindred Hearts that provides grief support to families for as long as they need it. Learn more about Heritage Health Solutions’ Heritage CARES virtual support program at their website.