While COVID-19 persists, society battles racial hurdles, and political tensions remain strong, our mental health is more challenged than ever. For some therapists, the country’s current climate has forced them to readapt and approach their practice in a new way. “My therapists have had conversations about having to stop current treatment in order to really dive in and process what’s happening on the news,” says Jennifer Sheard-Lynch, co-owner of Poppy’s Therapeutic Corner in North College Hill.
As a team specialized in cultural competency, mental health therapists at Poppy’s have had to quickly adjust in order to treat imminent triggers that recent events have posed. These events heighten feelings of anxiety and depression in all individuals, especially those who have a history of mental health struggles.
In 2019, the National Institute of Mental Health reported that 51.5 million U.S. adults deal with mental illness. Of this group, only 23 million received professional care. While this disparity may be the result of many different factors, including social and economic resources, it can also be due to the negative stigma that still surrounds mental health. “There are still many people out there who perceive mental illness as, There’s something wrong with me,” says Chris Tuell, clinical director of addiction services at the Lindner Center of Hope. “They see it as a sign of weakness. So that prevents a lot of people from getting help.”
Hesitancy to seek out professional help through therapy, Tuell says, can further cause mental illness to impact an individual’s day-to-day functionality. He’s found that many of the substance abuse issues his patients struggle with stem from a co-occurring illness like depression or anxiety. In many cases, these conditions are worsening as COVID-19 persists. “When people have mental health issues and/or substance abuse, there’s a natural tendency to disconnect and isolate from others,” says Tuell. “When we’re told to social distance and basically disconnect from people, that just exacerbates the situation.”
According to Stephanie Kemme, a mental health therapist at Restoring Hope Counseling & Coaching in Finneytown, the correlation between the pandemic and mental health has prompted an increase in individuals seeking professional care. Despite the common misconception that therapy is “just talking,” Kemme argues that regular visits have real benefits. “Sitting down with a therapist who is trained in active listening, reflective listening, and has the ability to empathize with individuals and just being heard and validated in your experience is extremely helpful,” she says. “Just having somebody to sit down with to dedicate an hour of your time for yourself each week is huge, specifically during isolation, when you may not have a set support system.”
Lynch says these regular visits are especially beneficial for those who have had to spend the duration of the pandemic at home in an unsafe situation. For these circumstances, if an individual can’t make an in-person appointment with a therapist, she recommends trying a telehealth appointment while on a walk outside, at a park, or in a car, where they can speak freely.
Even for those who don’t need weekly visits, Lynch, Kemme, and Tuell are adamant that mental health care isn’t exclusively for those presently struggling. Maintenance therapy is just as crucial for a healthy mental state, and plans can be as frequent as every other week or as rare as every few months. “It should be in the same realm as all the other physical medical elements that we have to take care of,” Lynch says. “Because you’re walking around each day with a cloud in your mind—these consistent and pressuring thoughts—and you need to have a place where you can release that.”
Additionally, Lynch says, someone’s mental health can also be cared for from home through podcasts and research articles. Kemme also says being social via Zoom or socially-distanced walks can be instrumental in coping with physical isolation. All of these coping mechanisms can be beneficial until an individual feels comfortable seeking professional help.
“It can be scary taking the first step,” says Lynch. “Many people don’t want to seem ‘soft’ or have people see them hurt or upset. But in therapy, you have your small corner of the world that you can come to and you can just be yourself.”