Wellness

Mental Health During COVID-19: Common Questions You Might Have

local counselor offers tips on seeking help during stressful times

Rebecca Mennecke |

Photo Source: Creative Commons
(Photo: Creative Commons)

Between the coronavirus pandemic and the protests for social justice taking place across the country, many people are feeling more stressed than usual. For some, taking a break from the news and enjoying a relaxing hobby might help. For people who struggle with mental illness, current events might exacerbate pre-existing issues. We decided to ask a local licensed professional counselor, Shauna Putzy, from the Chippewa Valley Counseling Center some common questions about mental health during these – dare we say it? – unprecedented times.

Volume One: Between COVID-19 and the protests for social justice taking place across the country, what are some ways to focus on our mental health during these uncertain times?

Shauna Putzy: The events we have been experiencing recently, such as the pandemic restrictions and the protests for social justice, have impacted us all. I feel it is important to stay educated and informed from credible sources. However, if you are feeling overwhelmed, it is important to have a balance of how much information you seek out and take in. Taking time away from social media might be one way to create some balance. Self-care is something we talk about often in mental health, and it is helpful to identify some activities (that) you find beneficial. It does not only mean getting a manicure or a massage. For some, it may mean sitting outside in nature taking in the sights, sounds, and smells. Self-care could mean going for a run, going fishing, having a picnic in the park, or listening to your favorite music. Find what you enjoy and be intentional doing those activities if you find you have not taken time for yourself recently.

What are some warning signs to look out for that our mental health is getting out of control and we should consider consulting a professional?

I believe mental health is just as important as our physical health. I encourage individuals to look at mental health counseling with a proactive approach rather than reactive. It is beneficial to seek out support from a professional for multiple reasons such as life transitions, anxiety and/or depression, work or family stress, grief, substance abuse, relationship issues, or emotional support. These are just some examples of why an individual may seek out assistance. At times, we may not have family or friends who can effectively support us with an unbiased point of view. Mental health professionals are able to offer that support. Things to be aware of is if your regular coping strategies are no longer effective and you feel as though your mood fluctuates more than normal. If your sleep has been impacted – getting too much or not enough sleep can have a great impact on our mental health. Also, if your appetite has changed and you have experienced a significant unexplained weight loss or gain. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, seeking out support is important. If you feel as though you are in a consistent panic or experience prolonged heightened anxiety, mental health counseling can be of benefit.

“Self-care is something we talk about often in mental health, and it is helpful to identify some activities (that) you find beneficial.” –Shauna Putzy, Chippewa Valley Counseling Center 

What are some of the resources available for mental health?

There are many wonderful therapists in our community who are willing to assist individuals and families. One resource you can use when looking for a therapist is psychologytoday.com. Local therapists have mini bios so you can learn a bit about them, their approach, and areas of specialty. 211 is a resource (that) can assist callers in finding resources within their community as well. If you find yourself or a family member experiencing a mental health crisis, the Northwest Connections Crisis Line is local and employs trained professionals to assist you or a family member. You can reach them by calling (888) 552-6642. If you have medical insurance, you can contact them to receive a list of area professionals who are in-network. Lastly, employers often offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), which you can access. Coverage for sessions and the number of sessions differs with each EAP program. Speak with management or human resources if you are unsure if you have an EAP program available to you and how to access it if you do. There are many resources available, and you may find your close friend or family member may also have recommendations. It is OK to talk about seeking out support.

How can we make mental health an ongoing priority?

This is a great question. As I mentioned before, taking a proactive approach to mental health is so beneficial. Mental health is just as important as our physical health. ... It is OK to talk about when you are struggling, and if you seek out assistance it does not mean you are failing. To me, it means the opposite. It is a positive if you are able to recognize you need support. We all need support now and then; no one is immune to mental health. It is part of us. Some of my clients have expressed they feel they are able to speak freely in therapy and be completely honest about what they experience without fearing judgement. This is where positive change occurs.

What happens during a counseling appointment? How do counseling appointments work now because of the coronavirus?

Typically, sessions last anywhere between 50 and 60 minutes. During the first appointment, the therapist is getting to know you and what you hope to gain out of therapy. Just as the therapist is getting to know you, you are getting to know the therapist. It is important you feel as though the therapist is a good fit so you get the most out of each session. If you feel as though the therapist is not a good fit, it is perfectly acceptable to seek out someone else – just as you would if you feel your medical doctor is not a good fit. After the first appointment, goals for therapy are usually discussed and are addressed in subsequent sessions. This may be inclusive of learning different coping strategies to gaining self-awareness regarding your emotional and behavioral wellbeing. Each mental health professional may have a different approach they utilize. It is helpful to ask the professional what their approach is to therapy and have them explain further. Due to coronavirus, most mental health professionals moved to secure and confidential online video sessions rather than in-person sessions. It has been a different way of offering services but still effective. Some local offices may be returning to their physical locations, and I recommend asking the office if they are offering in-person or video sessions when you make your appointment.

Can you explain what the different kinds of mental health professionals are and what they do?

There are different types of degrees in mental health. Master’s level clinicians may have education focused on professional counseling, clinical social work, substance abuse, or marriage and family therapy. Master’s level clinicians are able to practice independently once they have had adequate supervision and have passed the licensing board exam. These are the individuals who typically offer outpatient therapy sessions. Clinical psychologists (Ph.D., Psy.D.) also may offer psychotherapy along with psychological testing. They focus on behavioral interventions to treat individuals. Psychiatrists (M.D.) are able to prescribe medications to manage mental health concerns. They offer medication management services to individuals and may offer psychotherapy services as well.

How can we work to eliminate the stigma around mental health?

We can work to eliminate the stigma by talking about mental health. We all have mental health, and we all need support at times. It is not something to be ashamed of; it is part of us. We are all human and we experience emotions, which drives and impacts behavior. So, I encourage everyone to talk about it, let the people around you know when you are struggling and how they can support you in that moment. Being sensitive with language is critical. For example, if someone suffers from anxiety and/or depression telling them to “get over it” or “stop worrying” is not helpful. If they could just “get over it” or “stop worrying,” they would. If someone talks to you about their mental health, be open to learning and understanding what they experience rather than dismissing the notion that something might be wrong. Be supportive.