Tag: Mental Health

As mental health professionals, you may suggest the importance of self-care to your clients, but do you have a difficult time implementing a practice in your own life? During the last year specifically there’s been an increase in demand for mental health services as individuals are navigating the effects of the pandemic. It’s essential as a counselor, therapist or clinician that you recognize any signs of stress or fatigue and implement self-care into your daily routine.

This may differ from person to person, but look for the following:

  • Losing your sense of humor
  • Problems developing at home
  • Having low or no energy
  • Becoming irritated with clients
  • Other physical and mental signs of stress include change of appetite, trouble
    sleeping, feelings of overwhelm or that things can never seem to go right

Consistently as a mental health professional, you give so much of yourself to your clients. This has every potential to leave you feeling emotionally depleted if there is an absence of other forms of support or self-fulfilling activities. Further, the cumulative stressor of an ongoing pandemic has been a shared trauma experienced by both client and clinician concurrently. This has presented us with an environmental parallel process while engaging with our clients. As such, it becomes increasingly more vital for us, as helpers, to ensure that we find ways in which to enrich our lives outside of session as a way of practicing self-care.

Outside of your career, you’ll want to be sure that your relationships are not “one-way streets.” It may be second nature for you to always listen and always give, but your personal relationships need full participation and commitment from all parties.

Why is practicing self-care important for mental health professionals?
When mental health professionals do not consider their emotional, physical and spiritual wellbeing as a priority, their outlook on their careers or the profession itself can change which may lead to severe stress or burnout.

Here are ways to implement talking the talk and walking the walk:

  • Join a peer group
  • Consider attending counseling
  • Create boundaries with clients
  • Set office hours (and stick to them!)
  • Take vacations/holidays

How can mental health professionals incorporate self-care into their daily practice?
Nurturing your wellbeing looks different for everyone and also may differ in the various stages of your life. Look for moments within your day-to-day to reflect and care for yourself. Make it a part of your routine and non-negotiable on your calendar.

Small acts of daily self-care include:

  • Go for a walk
  • Meditate, pray or practice mindfulness
  • Journal or write down thoughts and feelings as they arise
  • Nourish yourself with water, movement/exercise and nutritious foods
  • Set priorities on your to-do list ensuring there’s time for yourself

It may feel difficult or selfish at first to make yourself a priority. However, when you take proper care of your wellbeing, you’ll be able to increase the quality of care, impact more lives, and serve your clients better. That starts with taking care of yourself on a consistent, guilt-free daily basis.

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Are you feeling busy, distracted and exhausted? Even after the emotionally overwhelming year we’ve all just experienced, we haven’t slowed down and taken time for ourselves. Further, our society doesn’t value the practice of introspection, the observation of one’s own mental and emotional processes. Introspection, or self-reflection, is the willingness to recognize and determine your “old programming” that no longer serves you so that you can build new “programming.” How this can be done? With a calm mind to start.

How do I calm my mind?
Having a calm mind will allow you to concentrate and feel more relaxed. This practice will vary person to person, but here are some suggestions:

  • Take a few deep breaths; practice breath work
  • Stretch your body
  • Go for a walk; move your body
  • Journal, meditate, pray

How do I practice self-reflection?
When your mind is calm, allow yourself to draw inward and think deeply on the issue, emotion or memory at hand. To help, ask yourself:

  • What does this make me think?
  • How does it make me feel?
  • How does it hold me back?

It’s important not to judge yourself. Be honest with yourself so that you’re not tempted to imagine how you should feel. Don’t be afraid to dig deeper! You’re trying to access the root of the issue and you will most likely come across resistance. This is your ego/mind trying to protect you from uncomfortable and harmful emotions.

Additionally, you can ask yourself questions in order to get to know yourself better whether or not you’re currently working through an issue. Start with these:

  • What am I really scared of?
  • Am I holding on to something that I can let go of?
  • When did I last push passed my comfort zone?
  • What do I want most in life?
  • When was the last time I made someone smile?

Why should I practice self-reflection?
With self-reflection comes self-awareness. You’ll begin to see your thoughts, behaviors, emotions and reactions in real time as you experience them. You can determine which ones bother you, don’t serve you or harm you and learn to let them go. By slowing down, calming your mind, and asking yourself substantial questions to draw on old issues, you can then learn to shift your behaviors, thoughts and reactions to ones that better represent you, your values and beliefs.

The more you reflect, the easier you’ll be able to hold yourself accountable. This not only benefits you directly, but it also benefits those you surround yourself with. You may even inspire them to be more introspective!

What are benefits to introspection?
A self-aware person can expect myriad of benefits, but here are some that may be true for you:

  • Clarity
  • Self-control
  • Less stress and anxiety
  • Higher self-esteem and pride
  • Increased emotional intelligence
  • Easier time coping with challenges
  • Appropriate reactions to situations
  • Realize their potential and become more aligned

Remember, slowing down, calming your mind and regular self-reflection may come with resistance­­­­ from your mind, your family, even your job. Stay strong­­–this time is essential for your mental health. It’s okay to start small and always be gracious and patient with yourself. You’re in the process of changing how you think, feel, and behave. You’re changing your life!

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Have you found yourself at the beginning of a new year with good intentions and hefty resolutions, but ended up falling off track? We’ve all been there! Although it can seem discouraging, it is possible to make changes for the better. By having a growth mindset, you know that with time and effort you can stay on track with your goals and grow mentally and emotionally. Use these simple affirmations to start 2021 off confidently.

I failed vs. I learn from my mistakes. When we change the narrative from failure to growth, we’re more receptive to learning from our mistakes rather than fearing making them in the first place.

I can do it alone vs. I ask for help when I need it. There is a difference between independence and being self-sufficient and knowing when you need support. The key is learning when and to whom you should ask for help.

I’m not as good/successful/purposeful as they are vs. I focus on my own progress. Comparison has its place, but it can also be very dangerous to your mental health and your personal growth. When you focus on your progress, you learn more about yourself and what you need and want in your journey.

I’m not smart enough for that vs. I can do hard things. Strong, confident, and mentally healthy people know that a challenge can be a good thing. When you overcome difficult situations, you become more confident and resilient—and ready for the next challenge.

I’ll never understand it vs. I haven’t figured it out yet. When we have limiting thoughts, we are indeed limiting ourselves. It’s okay if something is taking you time to figure out or work through. Life is full of those situations! Giving yourself the empathy and understanding that certain things take time to work through will be beneficial in your growth.

I’m just not meant for this vs. I am on the right track. When you focus on yourself, learn from mistakes, and give yourself time to work through things, you’ll come to know yourself better on a deeper level. Your intuition is powerful and can guide you through many of life’s uncertainties especially if you’re equipped to learn to listen to it. It’s just as important to realize when you’re not on the right track and to change course until you know that you are.

It’s important to recognize that the way you communicate with yourself is just as important as the rest of your emotional and mental health. With societal pressures, family pressures, and internal pressures, it’s crucial that we heal the relationship we have with ourselves in order for us to truly progress and thrive.

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This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on October 21, 2020, by Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS; Health Affiliates Maine. 

Question:  My son is 11 and has some significant behavioral issues including outbursts of anger, aggression, and yelling. We have been working hard with him on coping skills when he feels angry and this has helped some. He has been asking for a dog for a couple of years now. My husband thinks it could be a good time to get one and have our son work toward a dog by showing good behavior. I’m on the fence. Though I think it could be a motivator, I worry he would digress after we got a dog. If I am honest, I also am a little wary that he could show aggression toward the dog. He does now with my husband and me. I would appreciate some advice.

Answer: Both you and your husband have made some good points. Under any circumstances, adding a pet to the home takes a family commitment of time, energy, money, and affection. This is a long-term commitment that can pay off in lots of shared joy. 

A dog could be very therapeutic for your son. Pets love and accept us, without judgment, unconditionally; they are reliable and loyal. Pets can teach children many great and valuable lessons. Your son can learn responsibility to provide for the dog’s needs of food, water, exercise, play, and grooming in turn for endless love and affection. Pets help a child experience caring for another, a lifelong lesson in empathy.   

Before any of this happens, however, you and your husband need to come together to work on communication and an agreement about behavioral expectations, rewards, and consequences, both for current behavior and for future behavior with the dog. A dog is not going to immediately solve the aggressive behaviors you are currently seeing. As you alluded to, some children can turn that aggression on a pet. This can be serious and needs professional attention if it occurs.

Anger, aggression, and yelling is concerning, and it is also concerning that he is acting out aggressively toward you. Finding the source of his anger and frustration is extremely important. As with the check engine light on the dashboard of your car, his behavior is signaling unmet needs or underlying emotions that he is having trouble expressing in healthy ways. I am glad that you are helping him with coping skills. Seeking counseling for your son can be another way to help him learn to express and deal with distress before it turns aggressive. A counselor can also help him talk about what might be making him angry and afraid (fear is often covered up by anger). Family counseling can also give you and your husband tools to help you help your son so he can grow up happy with his dog.

 

Luanne Starr Rhoades, LCPC, LADC, CCS is a professional counselor and the Outpatient Therapy Director at Health Affiliates Maine.

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Q: Why do you do this work?
A: I do this work because I wish I had had someone who helped me when my child was young. It is hard to parent a child who struggles, it can be isolating. To have had someone who understood the types of things that I was going through would have been invaluable. As a parent of a child with special needs, I did not have a lot of natural supports, and I want to be able to fill this need for others.

Q: What can you bring to clients/families that is unique to you?
A: I can bring a different level of empathy because I have been there before. It’s one thing to give advice and connect someone with resources, but it’s another thing altogether to be able to connect based on shared experience. I can also give a behind the scenes look at services and options because I have accessed many of them myself.

“I can bring a different level of empathy because I have been there before.” – Julie P.

Q: What is one thing you want clients/families to know about your role?
A: My role is unique. I can do more to support and educate parents from a perspective of someone who has faced similar challenges. As a parent, the struggle continues even though my daughter is now over 18 years old.

Q: What are some examples of things you would do with a client/family during a typical meeting?
A: I am lucky to be able to do a wide variety of things in this role. For example, I spend a lot of time helping families prepare for meetings like IEPs or Family Team Meetings. I help families learn what to expect when interacting with the different systems like the courts, Child Protective Services, schools, and evaluations.

I role model parenting skills and can help talk parents through difficult situations. I also work with families to explore and encourage self-care. As caregivers, we are always thinking about what is best for those in our care and sometimes we forget to care for ourselves. I even practice self-care with clients by having a cup of tea and just talking.

Q: What is your favorite part about being in this role?
A: By far my favorite part is seeing those lightbulb moments. Those moments of growth when a person makes a new connection or sees a new truth. I love when a caregiver is able to see the impact of their behaviors and can successfully use their own behaviors and reactions to change the child’s behavior.

Q: If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
A: I am a bit of a sci-fi geek so I would love to be able to travel to other dimensions. It would be interesting to see and learn to understand a world in a different way.

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Q: Why do you do this work?
A: I like that there is more of an overall wellness focus in this role and that treatment is focused on the whole person. I like that this program specifically looks at mental and physical health as intertwined because, as a nurse, I know that those two parts of us influence one another. Behind that is my passion for supporting those working through mental health needs. I enjoy teaching people and speaking to people in down-to-earth terms. Sometimes medical jargon gets overwhelming, and I like being the bridge that can help someone understand their medical needs.

Q: What can you bring to clients/families that is unique to your role?
A: We all have different life experiences and I can bring mine to the table. I have worked in medical and mental health settings, so I am able to work within both. I can help clients navigate the healthcare system in a way that supports their mental health growth.

“I feel like I’ve done my best work when a client can hang up the phone feeling
rejuvenated and ready to tackle their goals.”
– Deb M.

Q: What is one thing you want clients/families to know about your role?
A: I am here to support them. I can be a resource at any stage of someone’s wellness journey. I can be an educator, a helper, or a sounding board. I follow the client’s lead and help them make wellness goals that make sense for them.

Q: What are some examples of things you would do with a client/family during a typical meeting?
A: There are many things that I can do to help. For example, I often talk with clients about their wellness goals and provide them with education to help them reach those goals. This might be talking about strategies for accessing activities to be more active or discussing small changes they can make to their daily routine to live a healthier lifestyle.

I can also help them understand what their doctors are saying. If a client is told they have a new diagnosis or need a procedure and they don’t know what it means, they can call me, and I can help explain it to them. I can’t diagnose or treat the client, but I can help them understand. I can also provide emotional support. For example, if someone is trying to quit smoking and is having a hard day, I want them to give me a call so we can talk through the craving.

Q: What is your favorite part about being in this role?
A: I love to communicate and interact with clients. I enjoy being a motivator and helping clients figure out how to meet their goals. I feel like I’ve done my best work when a client can hang up the phone feeling rejuvenated and ready to tackle their goals.

Q: If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
A: I would have a magic wand that could take away all of people’s worries and could fix everything. In this field, we always want to be able to help and a magic wand would come in handy. It would also be great to be able to do the dishes with one quick swish of a wand!

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Q: Why do you do this work?
A: I like doing peer support and I’m good at it. I like that you can just connect with people as people and you don’t have to worry about a lot of paperwork or be constantly assessing the person.

Q: What can you bring to clients/families that is unique to you?
A: I can help clients by coming at them from the perspective of someone who has had my own personal experience as a client receiving services. I can connect with a person because I know a little bit about what it’s like to be in their shoes and can share my own experiences with them.

“I am non-judgmental. To me, we are just two people getting to know and support each other.”– Carly M.

Q: What is one thing you want clients/families to know about you?
A: I am non-judgmental. I look at every new person as a clean slate. I don’t know anything about them, and they don’t know anything about me. To me, we are just two people getting to know and support each other.

Q: What is one thing you want clients/families to know about your role?
A: I am not a clinical provider. I can connect with you as you are and have no clinical agenda. I can meet you where you are and walk you through the work you will do in services.

Q: What are some examples of things you would do with a client/family during a typical meeting?
A: What I do with a client varies based on what the client and I decide we want to do. Sometimes I will meet with a client somewhere like a park or coffee shop and we just talk. Other times I might do an activity with them in the community that we both enjoy like a walk or visiting a new place.

Q: What is your favorite part about being in this role?
A: I like being able to meet people where they are and help them feel supported. I like making clients feel like they are not alone. I like meeting new people and getting to know them and their stories.

Q: If you could have any superpower, what would it be and why?
A: The power to fix problems at the source. Figuring out what is happening and why can be hard and life would be so much easier if we could just know where it comes from.

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Mental and emotional resilience takes continuous practice. It’s a commitment to yourself that you will always show up and do the hard work. Being mentally healthy and resilient will allow you to feel more confident, in control, and able to tackle life’s ups and downs.

What is resilience?

Resilience is the ability to recover quickly from difficulty or a tough situation. It’s a skill that takes constant care to develop. It’s a conscious choice to improve your response or reaction to something that was very hard for you to experience. In other words, resilience is the ability to “bounce back.” It sounds like a superpower, but we can all practice resilience with self-awareness and the decision to improve. 

What does resilience look like?

We all have different life experiences, stressors, and issues that we work through on a daily basis. Therefore, a resilient person does not have one specific quality, look or personality trait. It’s all of us. However, there are some characteristics to look for in a mentally healthy and resilient person:

Sense of autonomy: individual autonomy is the notion that you are your own person. You live your life based off your own values, ethics and motivations.
Rational thinking: the ability to consider and analyze facts, opinions and judgements of a situation to determine a reasonable conclusion.
Regulate stress: the use of coping skills to manage daily stresses.
Self-esteem: the attitude you have towards yourself; self-respect, self-worth. 
Sense of optimism: can also relate to one’s happiness and the meaning and purpose they have of their life and life in general.
Good health habits: this includes proper sleep and personal hygiene, nutritious eating and regular exercise.
Sociability/social skills: being sociable with others; the way you communicate and interact with others.
Adaptability: the ability to change and adjust to new situations or experiences.
Altruism: the moral principle of being concerned with the happiness and wellbeing of all other living beings; compassion, love for others.

On the other hand, those that are lacking resiliency may show these traits:

  • Irritability or anger
  • Low immune system or illness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Overreaction to normal stressors
  • Easily upset/depressed or crying
  • Lack of hope

It is not out of reach or impossible to strengthen resilience and our mental health. We all have the natural ability and capacity to grow and improve our quality of life.

Why is it important to be resilient?

To be resilient is to have developed, and continue to develop, a means of self-protection against difficult situations using self-awareness and coping strategies. Also, being resilient will allow you to maintain balance during stressful times and protect us from developing possible mental health issues. It can also offer the following:

  • Improved learning skills, improved memory
  • Improved physical and mental health
  • Reduced risky behavior (excessive drinking, smoking, illicit drugs)
  • A sense of belonging and giving back to community and/or family
  • Experience more positive emotions and better able to regulate emotions

It’s important to note that those practicing resilience are not immune from mental illness or mental health issues. However, when effective coping skills are in place, mental health illnesses or issues can be more manageable.

How can I be more resilient?

There many ways that you can practice resilience and mental strength in your life. We are all our own person with individual thoughts, emotions, and life experiences and so our coping strategies will vary. Here are a few to try:

  • Let yourself feel emotions as they come and go
  • Find a support system that you can trust
  • Lean on self-care strategies; listen to what your body and mind need
  • Find a therapist or professional counselor
  • Maintain a routine of wellness (meditation, eating, exercising, etc.)
  • Get plenty of sleep
  • Cultivate a sense of purpose
  • Embrace change and your reactions to it
  • Develop problem solving skills; take action to solve problems as they come
  • Face your fears; this begets self-confidence which will affect your perspective
  • Practice self-compassion; be mindful of the words, thoughts, actions toward yourself
  • Learn to forgive; this allows you to process unfavorable experiences by changing your mindset and relieving yourself of toxic, negative emotions and thoughts.

 

The uncertainty of the past year and upcoming months may have lead you to feel isolated, lonely, stressed or overwhelmed. Being aware of your mental health and coping strategies now and working towards strengthening them will better prepare you for any challenging times ahead. Remember that it is okay to need and want help. Reaching out to a professional takes courage.

 

 

 

 

Source: payneresilience.com, positivepsychology.com, psyhcologytoday.com

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Teen Suicide: It’s Not Just Drama

Adolescence is a time of change, change that is often frightening and confusing for teens. Their bodies are changing. Their minds, too, are changing, but they are not yet ready for all of the decisions they face.

This article originally appeared in Macaroni Kid on March 5, 2019 by Mary A. Gagnon, LMFT; Health Affiliates Maine

“She’s such a drama queen.”

“All he wants is attention.”

“They’re not serious.”

These words—and others like them—lead to the dangerous belief that a teen who is talking about suicide should be dismissed or, even worse, purposely ignored. Those beliefs can sometimes lead to tragic results.

Adolescence is a time of change, change that is often frightening and confusing for teens. Their bodies are changing. Their minds, too, are changing, but they are not yet ready for all of the decisions they face. It’s important to understand this because teens often act without thinking and have little experience in managing their emotions. These are two risk factors for suicide. Other risk factors—mental health issues, poor coping/social skills, perfectionism, unrealistic parental expectations, family conflict, abuse, and more—heighten the risk for teens already struggling to learn how to become adults. 

As adults, it’s easy to brush off a teen’s behavior as “dramatic” or “attention-seeking.” So how can we tell the difference between a teen having a bad day and a teen who needs more support? Look for some of these signs:

  • Threatening to hurt or kill themselves
  • Making plans to kill themselves
  • Expressing hopelessness about the future
  • Displaying extreme distress or emotionality (more than is typical for a person their age or for the teen in general)
  • Increase in agitation, irritability, anger (more than is typical, or an extreme change)
  • Withdrawal from activities they used to enjoy

What can you do if you suspect that an adolescent is thinking about suicide? First, you show them you care. Ask them how they’re doing. Ask them what’s going on in their lives, who their friends are, how their academics are going, how they’re feeling. And if they tell you, listen. Teens know if you’re not being sincere, so don’t make it an interrogation—make it a curious, genuine inquiry. Second, you ask the question—Are you thinking about suicide? Yes, it’s direct, and yes, it’s scary. However, it’s the only way to get the answers you need, and the consequences of not asking could be dire. Don’t worry—you won’t put the idea in their heads. That’s a myth. And third, you get them help. If they say yes, you make sure to connect them with a mental health or medical professional right away, and do not leave them alone. If they say no, it’s still a good idea to help them connect to a mental health professional because even if they aren’t planning to take their own lives, chances are good that they could use some extra support.

One of the major factors in preventing suicide is the presence of caring adults in the lives of teens. Truly, adults can make the difference for adolescents considering suicide. Be the difference. Show you care.

*Credit to the Maine Suicide Prevention Program (www.namimaine.org) for information regarding signs and risk factors for suicide.

Mary Gagnon is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the Training and Clinical Development Specialist for Health Affiliates Maine.  Mary has worked in private practice as well as a variety of community mental health settings throughout her career.  Her most recent work at Health Affiliates Maine includes oversight of clinicians in private practice and development and facilitation of trainings for schools and conferences throughout the state.  She is also trained to provide Suicide Prevention Awareness sessions for the Maine Suicide Prevention Program.

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Hi again! I am back with another blog. I was re-reading my first one “Shame: Managing Stormy Days” the other day and thought it was, “to my surprise” not bad.

I say this not with an ego. I say it as “An Adult Child Of An Alcoholic” who can still slip back to that spot of low self-esteem. Not for long and for sure not as often BUT the feelings don’t change. In that spot, I was quite nervous about my first writings here.

The thought or the fear was…..

“Will I write something worth reading? A thought not new to me. I shared those same feelings with my wife Linda when she first asked me to write our book “Weathering Shame”. Remember when I talked in that first blog about the Lack Of Awareness Around How I Grew Up? I also noted that Growing awareness during the beginning of my “Journey Toward Wellness” helped build successes and to make better choices. All true!

However the biggest change along the way is a growing confidence in myself and that has helped me feel more positive about ME!

I got there by being very aware of both my Strengths & Weaknesses and accepting both. 

 

  • Re-reading my first blog has me feeling that I made several good points that I am really proud of.
  • I have heard and taken in positive feedback from you the public and the folks at “Health Affiliates Maine”.
  • A new habit, replacing the old habit of discounting kind words. That was around how I felt about myself.
  • I am  growing and learning of being able to acknowledge small successes.
  • Being less concerned about what other people think of me including not going to a negative place with it.

The most important change happening is a True Feeling of Self-Worth!

Not being in such a rush to finish tasks. Being a better listener and offering support not solutions and the most important realization..“DON’T BE INVESTED IN THE OUTCOME!” If you have read our book “Weathering Shame” you know how much of a problem I had around these issues. Has it gone away completely? Of course not! But I do feel a strong shift in feelings and my behavior.

So at this point in my journey, I do believe that what I am saying around the issues of Shame and stigma is helping those who hear or read my words to maybe begin sharing their own stories and struggles with someone they trust.

In closing, MY THANKS to those who have thanked me for my role in Health affiliates Maine TV and Radio campaign. The recovery stories being shared by others are amazing and powerful.

ACCEPTANCE IS ONE IMPORTANT STEP ON THE JOURNEY TOWARDS WELLNESS

AuthorKevin Mannix, Weather Forecaster,WCSH 6, NEWS CENTERS and co-author of “Weathering Shame”

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