(Picture of me and my daughters on Mother’s Day a few years ago.)
The other pandemic that is happening in addition to COVID-19 has been a mental health crisis. In a survey conducted by Mental Health America, there has been an over 93% increase in people seeking out anxiety screening with 80% of those who took the survey having moderate to severe anxiety. Everyday my patients, particularly those with a prior history of COVID-19 infection, or who had a loved one affected are also showing increased signs and symptoms of anxiety and depression which is detrimentally affecting their overall health and capacity to heal. Healthcare professionals are not immune to this mental health crisis with increased rates of moral injury reported since the COVID-19 pandemic.
As rates of COVID-19 decline and the world adjusts to a new normal, with this other pandemic occurring, what can we do to help foster healing of mind, body, and spirit? Living through COVID-19 has been traumatic for most on multiple levels. As we pick up the pieces and settle into these new lives, we can set the intention to heal, and take action to help foster healing.
In honor of Mental Health Awareness Month, I’ve recorded two podcasts. In the latest Mindful Healers Podcast episode, Mental Health is Health with special guest Dr. Megan Galaske, and a recent episode on Teen Mental Health with Dr. Dzung Vo, we highlight the importance of mental health and how we can heal and move forward. I shared in the latest podcast episode about my own journey with mental health, having had post-partum obsessive compulsive disorder (PPOCD) as part of my motherhood journey. I am sharing my story in hopes that it might help someone feel less alone, and to provide hope that healing can happen even from very dark times in our lives. Further, there still exists a harmful stigma for having mental health challenges amongst healthcare communities, and in my own culture. The fact is, mental health is health, and the more open, vulnerable, and honest people are about sharing, the more likely we are to destigmatize mental health challenges and heal as a society.
The most instrumental aspect of healing for me was working with my compassionate mental health team that included a psychiatrist, group therapist, and 1:1 therapist. The most difficult aspect for me about having PPOCD was reaching out for help for fear of repercussions from my profession, and any impact there would be for my children. I am asked what prompted me to get help. The resounding answer was I was suffering so much from the anxiety and the distressing nature of the intrusive thoughts that it was impacting my ability to be the mother I wanted to be for my infant daughter, and eldest daughter. And I had never been more certain in my life that I wanted to be around as their mother, to the best of my abililty and that necessitated the brave step of reaching out for help, regardless of any repercussions I would face. I simply wanted to feel better and be present for my children. During the height of the anxiety, I will share that my usual self-care tools such as mindfulnless, yoga, and being in nature did not help. In fact at one point I was afraid to be alone with my thoughts and therefore mindfulness and yoga actually made the anxiety worse. (Which is not uncommon- in fact untreated severe anxiety and depression are contraindications for starting a mindfulness course). So if you notice your or a loved one’s usual self-care mechanisms are not working as effectively, that is usually a sign that something is off and to be open about exploring why that is, perhaps with a trusted friend or healthcare professional. I’m happy to say that once the severity of my anxiety decreased, I was once again able to enjoy and benefit from my usual practices of mindfulness and yoga, to this day.
From my journey I was reminded with another version of the important lesson, you cannot care for others unless you care for yourself. I invite you to take some time to reflect, perhaps journaling the responses to the following questions:
- How are you? How are you really?
- Check-in with yourself- what are your go-to self-care routines? Are you protecting time for them? Why or why not?
- How effective have your self-care routines been for fostering your well-being?
- Is there something that you would like to commit or recommit to for your well-being?
And maybe you or a loved one have been struggling, silently. You aren’t alone. Help is available and you can feel better. Healing is possible, but the healing journey is very personal and needs to be individualized.
For help: Reach out to a loved one and your healthcare professional.
For physicians the Physician Support Line at 1 (888) 409-0141 is available. https://www.physiciansupportline.com/