Behavioral and Mental Health
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The time between May 2020 and May 2021 feels more like a century than 365 days. Pre-pandemic memories flicker in our minds like old newsreels. We reminisce about going to the movies or out to eat with friends as if from a gone-by era. What did we do before Zoom, exactly?
One year later, and a year and a half since the pandemic consumed the world’s stage, we see the first signs of a new normal. We also see more of the toll of COVID-19, not only on our bodies but on our minds.
Julie Manuel, LPCC, has seen this firsthand. As clinic program manager for the Kettering Behavioral Medical Center (KBMC), she has walked alongside patients young and old, helping them navigate the invisible yet all-too-real dilemmas and trauma provoked by the pandemic: loneliness, fear, depression, anxiety.
This month, National Mental Health Awareness month, we’re sitting with experts like Julie to learn about mental health, what keeps others from seeking help, and where Kettering provides mental-health care.
What made you want to be a therapist?
I’ve always had a desire to help other people, to know more about them. My dad is a pastor, so I picked up on how to interact with folks—in good times and bad. And both my parents are retired schoolteachers, so I had a great opportunity to learn from them. I was led to this field because I wanted to help others.
But I also learned to go through my own stuff, and I thought, “I wonder if my story can help others?” I learned the importance of understanding what people are going through and helping them develop strategies to be healthier.
That’s a bit of a different picture of a therapist than most of us have. So, it’s not all “lie on a couch and be analyzed”?
No. And thank you, Mr. Freud, for giving everyone that unhelpful image.
A lot of people think seeing a therapist means they’re going to lie on a couch while someone takes notes on them.
It’s more like having a conversation. We work hard at KBMC to treat people with kindness, compassion, and respect. It’s not like the movies. Instead, it’s personable, friendly, relaxed, and human to human.
What keeps most of us from seeing a therapist?
It’s difficult for people to navigate their stories because they’re fearful that their story isn’t good enough. Or they think, “Who wants to hear my story?” But I believe that no matter what people go through, there’s something we can learn from one another. If we are vulnerable enough to share, it gives us a chance to say to others, “You know, I know what you’re going through because I’ve been there. And here’s how I got through it.”
You use language that’s easy to understand when talking about therapy. How does the vocabulary we use everyday shape how we think about mental health, therapy, and getting help?
That’s something we’ve worked hard at KMBC. We encourage people to stay away from words with negative connotations. Addict. Bipolar. Crazy. These are labels we put on people, and they’re not fair. We’re trying to take their issue and make it an opportunity for change by not putting a label on the person, such as “addict.”
It’s important we see patients struggling with anxiety or addiction in the same categories as folks who struggle with diabetes or cancer. These are all medical issues we can treat.
Looking at this past year, have you seen more of a need for mental-health resources and treatment?
Unfortunately, the mental-health crisis we’ve seen in this country has been evident for years. It’s been one of those topics that when something bad happens, we bring up mental health and mental-health issues—anxiety, depression, suicide, etc.—and then it goes away. But over the course of the past year, more conversations about mental health have been brought up, and it’s because people are realizing it’s OK to say, “I’m struggling. I’m not OK right now, and I need someone to talk to.”
I say to people all the time, “It’s OK to not be OK. But it’s hard to admit that.”
How have you seen this play out at KBMC?
We’ve seen a lot more people with symptoms for anxiety and depression. The levels of anxiety we’ve seen have grown in the past year, and it’s two different kinds of anxiety.
The first is anxiety around whether someone will catch COVID-19. And if they do get sick, how sick will they be? We’ve done a lot of education groups in our inpatient and outpatient programs to help others understand COVID-19, social distancing, and the like.
But we’re also seeing anxiety from being isolated as well as social anxiety now that we’re starting to come back together. People who have been alone for quite some time are suddenly panicking because they’re asking “What happens if I see a group of people who aren’t wearing masks. Is it because they’re vaccinated? What should do I do? Do I ask them?”
So, we’ve seen everyone’s level of anxiety increase, and it’s primarily been because of fear of the virus and the social components that came with being alone.
Why do you think this past year made so many of us realize we need to talk with someone?
I tell others, “As humans, we can deal with only so many things at one time.” It’s like trying to keep a beach ball under water. While you’re sitting on it, you’re rocking back and forth, it gets tumultuous, and the waves crash into you. At some point, after you’ve sat on it for a while, it’ll launch out from underneath you. And when it does, it’s going to be like a rocket. That’s how we describe mental health and trauma.
We can process only so much. But at some point, something pushes us over the edge. And we suddenly find ourselves without the tools to fix a situation, and we need to reach out to somebody else. Much like if your leg were broken, you’d reach out to an orthopedist. It’s the same with our mental health.
The pandemic brought a lot of us to that moment. It hasn’t discriminated against anyone when it comes to anxiety, depression, or loneliness. Everyone, at some point, probably felt one of those things.
For someone who wants to take the first step to talk with someone about their mental health or a traumatic event, what should they do?
If they’re connected with a primary care physician (PCP), they can make an appointment with their PCP to send in a referral that will be reviewed by our mental health staff. Depending on the severity of what someone is dealing with and the type of treatment they’re seeking, that will shape the direction we go. If they want to talk with someone to process life or a life event, I recommend contacting your PCP first to get a referral put in.
If they need something more intensive, that’s when we ask people to consider doing a bit more intensive therapy. We would look at our intensive outpatient program. For those programs, we have two mental-health programs, a co-occurring program for those dealing with some sort of substance abuse issue, and an After-the-Call program specifically for first responders.
For situations beyond that, we have inpatient stabilization. For folks really struggling with an acute problem that needs dealt with immediately, I tell folks to go to the emergency room, and they’ll connect that patient with a therapist in the ER.
The direct line for our intensive outpatient program is (937) 534-4618.