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Posted on 05/20/2021

Mental Health Awareness Month (May 2021)

Mental Health Awareness Month (May 2021)

We didn’t want to miss one last chance to comment on May as Mental Health Awareness month. This is such a vital subject that affects a large portion of our communities. The month of May was first designated as Mental Health Awareness month back in 1949 in an effort to counter the social stigma that has long been attached to seeking help for mental health issues.  We are much more likely to seek help for physical ailments than mental health issues, a recent survey showed that many wait up to a year to seek help for a mental health issue and some never seek help. We tend to push it off until we can no longer function without help. The delay in seeking treatment can have devastating effects on our relationships, employment, mental and physical health. Thanks to awareness efforts the stigma has been reduced over the years but it still acts as a barrier to many that need to seek help. The COVID pandemic has caused many who previously had minor underlying issues to see those issues exacerbated by the fear, anxiety, depression, uncertainty, isolation, limitations on social interaction, job losses and personal losses during the last 15 months. The stresses have impacted every age group from our school-age children to our senior citizens.

Our nation's mental health professionals have seen an increase in people reaching out for help, many of the professionals that we have spoken with in rural areas have waiting lists that stretch for several months. This pandemic has forced many to reach out for help who never previously considered seeing a mental health professional. The pandemic has pushed many providers to start offering treatment via a telemental health platform, the benefit to the public is that it eliminates the need to drive somewhere to meet with your therapist and it opens up a larger selection of mental health professionals to consider when shopping for a therapist. Prior to the pandemic most clients sought therapists that they could see in person and that limited your choices to whoever was available in a 10 - 20 mile radius of where you lived or worked. With the therapy world transitioning to telemental health you can now see almost any therapist within your state’s boundaries. Some states even created temporary permission for medical and mental health professionals from other states to treat their state residents. This shift to telemental health has allowed many who were limited by their previous hesitancy or misconceptions about mental health treatment to easily connect with a therapist in the privacy of their own home.

We reached out to a few mental health professionals to get their input on how COVID has affected them and their clients as well as what they see moving forward. 

 

Clint Christie, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, California

It's been a heck of a year...  actually 15 months.  "Surreal" - "Unbelievable" - "Unprecedented" are a few of the words that come to mind.  But these words are inadequate and insufficient in describing the past 15 months.  As a licensed mental health provider working in the community I love, "How do I stay connected to the people I am committed to serving?"  I, along with my peers, have adapted to meeting online via Zoom meetings, or conducting counseling sessions via telephone, or meeting outdoors with masks in place at a safe distance.  We have ALL adapted... counselors and clients, too.  We have leaned in, built resiliency in one another and maintained our connections as best as possible.  We never get to choose our challenges in life but we can choose our response to the challenge.  I have grown in the past year and for that I am grateful.  Grown to appreciate many things that I was overlooking before...  The ease of travel, face to face connections, eating out in a restaurant, hearing live music, and my health.  I am grateful for these lessons and I am reminded of all of the beauty in my life.  I look forward to sunnier days with Spring here and Summer around the corner.  I look forward to staying connected in the present and to a time when the current challenge of the pandemic becomes a memory.  


Anne Schroeder, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist, California

It is not without irony that with the ending of the COVID restrictions comes the emergence of Spring. I notice a sense of not only physical but psychological freedom in the air.  My local community is again bustling with activity and the shops, businesses and restaurants have a celebratory air.  Friends and family are gathering, jobs are returning and our longing for “normalcy” is almost here.

It is said that Every cloud has a silver lining – How could this possibly apply to the devastation and despair of COVID?

In the last year life as we knew it came to a screeching halt.  Yet with this we have been given the opportunity to look within and to re-evaluate our life’s priorities. Things we have come to believe are essential to our happiness may have become less important.

Our physical isolation made a profound impact on our mental wellbeing, making us realize the value of relationships and human connection. Mental Illness awareness is now in the forefront.  There is wide acknowledgment of the benefits of working with a licensed mental health professional. Telehealth has made reaching out for support accessible to those who may never have before. 

In an effort to maintain these connections a whole new world has emerged. Zoom has become a household word for those of all ages.  Through the Zoom platform access to classes for every interest has become available.  On-line learning has helped to further our knowledge and special interests, exercise classes to remind us of taking care of our physical wellbeing and support groups for those needing ongoing support coping with life’s challenges.

These are but a few of the silver linings – Most importantly I see increased compassion for those suffering around us and how powerful simply being with one another positively impacts our lives.

I believe we will look at the pandemic as a testament to the strength of the human spirit.


Diane Fisher, Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, California

In times of turmoil, mood and art often share common ground.  You know it when you see it – or feel it.  The last year has given us an overwhelming amount of feeling opportunities, especially as we’ve been in isolation. Unfortunately, we’re experiencing the same world events, making panic, fear and distress contagious.

Now as our world and local community are opening up and asking for our participation, how do we jump back into our old lives, our pre-lockdown routines, when our moods may not be feeling modern, realistic or even abstract? 

First, who we were or what we could do “before times” may be irrelevant and no longer available to us now. Take a self-inventory of the expectations you put on yourself and ask if they are practical and true for right now. Remember, holding it all together can get exhausting, and the mantra “be gentle with self” is key. 

Try to think and feel with new eyes. The metaphor of staring at a closed door while not noticing the open window can be powerful in times when options feel limited.  The good news is dramatic changes can open new possibilities. Zoom Zumba? Who knew that would be a thing a year ago? 

Play the role of your own private investigator. What is bringing you joy and purpose right now?   Pay attention. This means accepting what is. Purposefully settling into the present moment helps with focus, productivity, and peace of mind.  It also does something else: It’s contagious, in a good way.   




In wrapping this up I want to stress that just because the pandemic is moving towards winding its way down doesn’t mean that all of the stress and anxiety that accompanied it will leave us too, much like soldiers continue to experience post traumatic stress years after combat experiences, we too will have lingering mental health effects from the pandemic and the social, mental and economic devastation that it has created. The best approach is to urge ourselves and others to be proactive about seeking help. There is much to be lost by delaying.

Kathleen “Kay” Wenger, LMFT, LPCC




The National Registry of Marriage Friendly Therapists is one of the available resources for finding a therapist in your state. We have many therapists specially trained in relationship counseling as well as individual counseling. You can read through their profiles and call and talk with them to see if they would be a good fit for you or your loved ones. Pass the link to this article along to someone you know that is struggling.

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