The Post-Pandemic Reality of Mental Health
Suzie Lawyer, LCPC
Suzie Lawyer is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor (LCPC) trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and an Internationally Credentialed Sandtray Therapist (ICST). She specializes in providing a refreshingly real approach to counseling and mental health. Before entering private practice, Suzie worked as a school counselor. She has attended LifePoint Church for over 30 years and is a widowed mother to six adult children.
Welcome to the second installment of our Well With My Soul series. In this installment, mental health professionals that are connected to LifePoint will be sharing truths about mental wellness. This week, Suzie Lawyer answers questions about the pandemic’s delayed impact on mental health, environmental mental health triggers, and encouraging changes in the area of mental health and treatment.
What are some of the ways you are seeing the pandemic impact mental health, particularly now, over a year into it?
Suzie: One difference between what we saw during the active pandemic and now is the impact people are having to reacclimating to ‘normal’, or the new ‘normal’. There’s been an increase in feelings of social anxiety even from self-described extroverts. People are facing new challenges in adjusting to large groups or gatherings after so much time in isolation or gathering virtually.
We’re also seeing some delayed grief as people return to their lives without the closure that certain milestones provide – funerals, graduations, weddings. We count on these milestones to provide us time to process changes or transitions in life. Not having them or having them but not in the way that we envisioned felt much like the rug being abruptly pulled out from under us. Now the rug is back, but it may not be laying properly – there may be creases in it and we’re realizing we need to take action to smooth these out.
Self-shame is another factor many are experiencing. There is a tendency to discredit feelings of grief since “at least we all stayed healthy” or “at least I still have a job.” Not allowing ourselves permission to feel upset at the times we’ve missed can also add to the processing time for grief.
With children and adolescents, our kids are facing an entirely new set of challenges as they return to school full-time. Many have missed pivotal years for social development, and we’ll continue to see these issues play out for some time to come.
What role do environmental, societal, or developmental triggers (for example, seasons changing, holidays, puberty) in our management of mental health?
Suzie: I’m a huge advocate of not waiting until you are in crisis mode to seek help. When possible, especially now, it’s always best to be proactive. If there are things incoming on the horizon that might be difficult, it’s best to get on a waiting list for a mental health provider now. With waiting times extending up to year in some circumstances, even thriving clients aren’t in any rush to be discharged from treatment. They would rather continue services during stable periods than risk having to go back on a waitlist if and when their mental health situation changes. Services are very much in demand, leading to burn out of mental health providers who aren’t careful with practicing self-care, something that is already challenging for most working professionals.
As far as seasonal depression or society triggers such as holiday season, it’s rarely the sole cause that brings someone into my office. Rather, this tends to be an “added factor” – something that makes existing issues even more difficult to manage. But in many cases, it adds the ‘push’ that people need to seek help.
What have been some beneficial changes in the mental health field as of late?
Suzie: One benefit to the pandemic is that it gave people the time and space to allow buried issues to rise to the surface. I think of it like an iceberg – there might be big things happening internally that we aren’t fully aware of, and can’t see completely, until it breaks the surface of the water. In some cases, this has opened a door to healing – I’ve seen estranged family members initiate contact for the first time in years, or people finally begin to deal with traumatic experiences from their past. It’s a good thing, because simply pushing these issues down tends to spill over into other relationships over time. It’s like the tree analogy. The roots of the tree may be in your yard, but when the tree has grown big enough that the branches start extending over the fence into your neighbor’s yard, those roots become your neighbor’s problem as well. Covid forced many of us to be more reflective and to question our own mortality, which in turn put things into perspective.
Seeking mental health treatment has also become less daunting. Virtual therapy is less intimidating to some by allowing the safety net of a screen, or from the comfort of their own home, and can be a good way to meet a new therapist prior to in person therapy.
What is one thing you wish more people understood regarding mental health?
Suzie: It’s very difficult to choose just one, but I would have to say it’s debunking this idea of emotional exclusivity. You can embrace two completely opposite emotions at the same time. There are good and bad parts to nearly every experience. We can be grateful we stayed healthy during the pandemic and mourn the things that the pandemic took from us. It’s not either or. It’s and.
Check back next week as Cheryl Durgin, a trained facilitator for the National Alliance on Mental Illness, answers questions about our children and mental health.
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