Amy Shoenthal, Contributor
Aug. 21, 2020
As society’s collective anxiety soars, another crisis looms. The CDC recently shared that people are already experiencing rising levels of anxiety and depression. Yet significant barriers exist when it comes to mental healthcare access. That’s why women all over the country are redesigning mental health and wellness resources to ensure previous barriers such as cost, time, location and stigma no longer prevent people from seeking the help they need.
The women I spoke to are focusing their efforts on four key areas: frontline workers, Black, Indigenous, People of Color (BIPOC), those suffering from workplace burnout, and working parents trying to balance it all.
Frontline Workers Battling The Pandemic
While frontline workers were applauded and lauded as heroes when the pandemic hit NYC in March, concerns arose about the lasting mental toll on those seeing the worst of the worst.
That’s why Caroline Webb and Kathryn Rose teamed up in March to build an initiative called Frontline Help , which offers free coaching services for healthcare workers. Webb shared, “When the Covid-19 crisis broke, it was obvious that there was going to be a lot of strain on frontline staff like nurses, doctors, EMTs. I wanted to donate some of my time, and I knew many other coaches who were also ready to do the same. And Kathryn Rose stepped up as the partner able to make it happen – she is the founder of a social enterprise called wiseHer , a platform that enables users to book calls with expert advisors around the world.”
Since then, several world-class coaching organizations (including the Institute of Coaching and Wellcoaches) joined in the effort to make it possible for Webb and Rose to do this at scale. Now the organization boasts more than 400 volunteer coaches who have raised their hand to help healthcare workers during the pandemic. The platform is now expanding to include teachers who face an extraordinary burden as the school year begins.
While the platform came together quickly, was free for users and easy to navigate, they were surprised to see a lack of signups during the onset of the crisis. Turns out, healthcare workers are less likely to seek care for themselves due to stigma.
Similar organizations are facing the same issues. Psychologist Nicole Andreoli helped create NYC COVID Cares , a network that matches volunteer therapists, coaches and spiritual leaders with healthcare workers and their families. “A big learning for us was becoming aware of the pervasiveness of mental health stigma throughout hospital systems. We've heard that frontline healthcare workers can be reticent to ask for mental health support because they fear being penalized internally or viewed negatively, so having an anonymous place where they can come and ask for help and support has undoubtedly been beneficial.”
While NYC COVID Cares saw an overwhelming response from volunteers, enlisting over 3,000 mental wellness professionals in the first few days of existence, there has been a disparity in response of frontline workers interested in participating. Andreoli wonders if “the mental health effects of being a frontline worker during this time will take on more of a trauma response, where negative symptoms really start to emerge several months down the line.”
“When your identity is tied to helping others, it’s not easy to admit that you might benefit from seeking support for yourself,” says Webb. “We try to emphasize that by taking a few minutes just to talk things through, you’ll be better able to help others because you're building your own resilience.”
There seems to be some level of success in recent years to try to destigmatize mental health services. In fact, Millennials are 2X more likely than older generations to see a therapist . Frame is trying to solve the accessibility issue. Kendall Bird left her job at Snap Inc. last year to join forces with her best friend, Sage Grazer, a licensed therapist who was struggling to build her business.
Bird is trying to combat the misperception that therapy is always high cost. She works with a network of therapists to find creative ways to provide affordable options. For example, she asked therapists to offer lower rates at off peak times. “Everyone wants to do therapy in the morning and evening (outside of work hours) but barely anyone wants to do Wednesday at 2pm so we asked therapists to offer lower rates for those time slots.”
In an effort to combat stigma, Frame hosts livestream sessions meant to mimic what an actual therapy session feels like. Bird says, “Users can tune in from around the world anonymously. We pick a specific topic. Recently we hosted one centered around racism. We had a person talk to a therapist about how to explain racism to her two young boys. Therapy can be really scary and intimidating for people, so we wanted to create an environment that made it less scary.”
Mental Wellness Resources for BIPOC
Organizations that focus on mental wellness resources for the Black community have always existed and in June 2020, saw unprecedented attention in the wake of recent civil unrest centered around police brutality and systemic racism. One of the most well known is Rachel Cargle’s The Loveland Foundation, whose therapy fund addresses barriers impacting access to treatment among diverse communities. Cargle has received attention for her “ The Great Unlearn ” initiative which seeks to educate both BIPOC and those who want to be allies about systemic racism through empathy, knowledge and action.
Dr. Christina M. Charlotin is a young, Black, LGBTQ+ identified licensed clinical psychologist who is currently building an organization called Therapy Pad with the goal of improving access to affordable mental health services. Set to launch in Fall 2020, TherapyPad is the first national mental health virtual group practice that only employs fully licensed clinical psychologists.
When asked about some barriers that people face when seeking out mental health resources, she pointed to the lack of diversity in the therapists themselves. “Some clients prefer and tend to respond better when services are being provided by a therapist who a client may feel better understands them as they share their same cultural/religious/ or racial background. For example, 80% of clients who seek me out are young adults, LGBTQ, or Black.”
Charlotin also believes virtual therapy can also break down some of the access barriers to mental health resources. She did her dissertation on Telehealth in 2015, “back when it was still considered a controversial topic.” She encourages people considering virtual therapy options to ask, “When it can be done from the comfort of your own home, why choose to continue suffering and being stagnant in areas of your life which don’t align with the outcomes you want for yourself?”
Parenting in a Pandemic:
Parents in 2020 are facing impossible challenges as they juggle full time work with childcare and distance learning. And with schools opening around the country, the choice between in-person or distance learning is often fraught with anxiety.
Dr. Angel Montfort is a licensed clinical psychologist and the founder of the Center for Maternal Mental Health in Wesley Chapel, Florida. Montfort offers the following advice to help parents who choose to continue distance learning maintain sanity. “Acknowledge that you will not be able to recreate the exact environment that your child had at school AND that you will not be as productive at your job while you are managing child care at home. Building a routine rather than a rigid schedule is important. If the schedule for distance learning is already designated by the school, then allow for flexibility with the other parts of your day such as meal times, outdoor activity or bedtime.”
Montfort also recommends finding moments of mindfulness amidst the chaos. “I would recommend practicing a brief (1-3 minute) meditation and setting an intention for the day. Be mindful that your child may be struggling with the adjustment as well, and practice empathy if you are noticing increased behavioral issues. It can also be helpful to teach your children healthy coping skills which may include mindfulness, relaxation strategies, or a creative outlet. Remember what your child needs above all else: to feel love, closeness and security.”
Dr. Michelle Casarella wants to break down the stigma associated with parents seeking mental wellness resources. She wants people to see therapy as necessary preventative care. “All too often therapy has a negative association. People often wait until things get really shitty to talk to someone. I deliberately named my business Mental Wellness Mamas because I want to get the word out about the difference between mental wellness and mental health. The overwhelming majority of my clients are moms without diagnosable mental health disorders. They are just people trying to manage it all.” (Disclaimer: the author of this piece is one of Casarella’s patients who is desperately trying to manage it all)
Casarella notes that, “Mental wellness is all about being proactive rather than reactive. It’s in line with the concept of preventative care, which has been shown to reduce the rates of chronic illness, increase overall life satisfaction, and reduce expenses.”
Mental Wellness In The Workplace
Casarella also focuses on how parents can deal with workplace burnout. “Companies with wellness programs usually include outlets proven to reduce stress and increase productivity: on site gyms, free access to meditation apps, rooms to take quick naps. These things are all fantastic, but the next piece is to focus on overall quality of life. Create a program that focuses on the needs of the modern working mom. Create a community for moms, flexible childcare support, tips on how to manage their energy rather than just their time, and how to deal with the constant pressure to do everything well.”
Workplace stress extends beyond just working parents. With so many companies shifting to a work from home model, employees are finding themselves putting in longer hours and struggling more than ever to log off now that the physical distance between office and home no longer exist. Kathleen Stetson, founder of Rational Confidence , works with a group familiar with burnout: entrepreneurs. She offers a 12-week program to those participating in MIT’s delta v accelerator which helps them incorporate mental wellness and mindfulness into their companies as they build them. “My hypothesis is that if founders care for their own mental wellness, their startups will be more successful. And the industry is catching up. This past year, 70% of entrepreneurs participating in the program were interested in mental wellness, meditation, coaching and more.”
She notes that the pandemic has probably contributed to society’s renewed focus on making sure people are caring for themselves. “People during the pandemic are just forced to be with themselves in this whole new way. The power of learning self awareness tools can be very helpful during times that are already anxiety provoking.”
Mental wellness experts overwhelmingly agree that the time investment in mental wellbeing is worthwhile, and they’re getting increasingly more creative about ways to solve the cost and stigma barriers. “If you have any interest in being the most successful and healthiest version of yourself, you should make time for it,” says Frame founder Kendall Bird. “(Coaches and) therapists help you work through setting healthy boundaries. They help you identify whether some of your relationships are toxic. It’s a tool that serves to make us all more well rounded.”
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