The coronavirus pandemic has taken a terrible toll on mental well-being as people cope with isolation, fear and uncertainty. KUNM’s Megan Kamerick talked with Ryan Williamson about his decision to seek therapy for the first time, and clinical psychologist Dr. Gerald Chavez for a segment that originally aired on our media partner New Mexico PBS.
Williamson said he was feeling very depressed recently and decided to seek help, but he’s still waiting for his first appointment and finding other ways to cope.
WILLIAMSON: I'm doing all right, they prescribe me some anti-depressants, and that's doing pretty well for me. I'm trying to stay busy and stay motivated in the meantime, trying to keep myself preoccupied. But it's difficult. And I would like to be able to to seek counsel for my sake and for the sake of my relationships.
KUNM: Dr. Chavez, could you talk about how this ongoing pandemic can impact our mental health?
CHAVEZ: Not only is it a pandemic alone creating confusion, so many mixed messages from so many different sources, we don't know in many cases which one to believe. So there's a lot of multiple things going on with this pandemic that we sort of need to address. But number one, the fact that we're stuck at home, people are either working at home and arguing with each other because they're not used to seeing each other face-to-face all the time. And those that come home, the health care workers who come home and they can’t hug their family and that tactile connection is so important to survival.
In my line of therapy, which is cognitive behavioral therapy, we look at thoughts which affect emotion, which manifests a behavior or an action. If we can learn to adjust our thoughts first and not directly go after the emotion, because you know this in talking to a child who is emoting, they get worse the more you talk to them because they're emoting, that has to settle down. The thought has to increase. And then all of a sudden we have a little more clarity of understanding or a cognitive sort of basis of understanding.
KUNM: A lot of people are struggling, like Ryan, to get counseling appointments during the pandemic. Why do you think this is happening? Are you seeing this?
CHAVEZ: Mental health care workers are sort of in a similar boat, for example, in my case, I've had people call me who I discharged three years ago who had anxiety or depression there. There are a number of ways to deal with that. If you contact your provider, whoever that might be, or your insurance company that has providers, I would definitely ask them if there's any other people taking clients now. If they're not, get on some of these waiting lists. There are people who are canceling appointments periodically because they, for example, don't want to leave the house or they don't want to do it on video chat or they don't want to do it on the phone.
KUNM: And what can people do while they're waiting for appointments?
CHAVEZ: So depending on what you normally do, for example, there some people who are spiritual type folks, they may deal with the people in their church. That's one component. Letting family know what's happening, because if we seclude, we end up creating and following those distorted thoughts I was talking about earlier and exacerbating the thinking which that exacerbates the emotion, which then may exacerbate the desire to drink or to oversleep or to not get out of bed or not bathe. And so we need to create this sort of connection with people. And check in with your primary care doctor. If you cannot get a therapist or a psychologist or psychiatrist, they can prescribe something for that, they’ll have stuff in their formulary medications to help you.
KUNM: Ryan, is there anything that you've been doing right now for self care?
WILLIAMSON: I've been trying to work on a lot of art projects, doing commission work. I like to do charcoal portraits, and that's helped me. It's very therapeutic to me. But even then, it's been difficult to stay motivated.
CHAVEZ: If you have a love of something, by all means, do that. And if you're not a person who meditates, I would suggest you maybe look into meditation and looking at things you could do on your own.
KUNM: Dr. Chavez, how can people support their loved ones or friends or coworkers if they sense something might be off?
CHAVEZ: Listen, listen, listen. That's the best thing you can do for people right now and don't always sit there trying to fix that. And then in the process of the collaboration, we might be able to at least arrive at a point where we mellow things out a little.
KUNM: And ask them if they need help or how you can help.
CHAVEZ: Exactly what can what can I do?
KUNM: Thank you both so much for coming and talking about this.
CHAVEZ: Thank you, Megan. Thank you Ryan. Good luck with your treatment.
WILLIAMSON: Thank you.
- New Mexico Crisis And Access Line (Toll Free 24/7) 1-855-NMCRISIS (662-7474)
- Peer to Peer Warmline for non-crisis calls (call or text wiht a peer (call 3:30pm - 11:30 pm/ text 6pm - 11pm)