Mental Health Matters: Q&A with a Mental Health Professional
The month of May is recognized in the U.S. as Mental Health Awareness Month. This designation, which first began in 1949, is part of a national movement to normalize discussions about mental health and to spotlight resources and tools available for mental wellness.
The pandemic has caused many of us to be more aware that mental health matters. Increasingly, people are willing talk openly about mental health and wellness issues. Below, Ly Tran, Pastor of Counseling at Chase Oaks Church and founder of the Watershed Initiative, answers some common questions about steps we can take to prioritize and care for our mental health and well-being.
Q: Why is mental health awareness important at this stage in the pandemic?
A: It’s been well over a year into the pandemic and it’s natural for each and every one of us to be feeling the mental, emotional, and relational strain that comes with it. At the same time, as things begin to open back up, it’s easy to think things will just get back to usual and to overlook the impact that such a year has had on our mental health.
Mental Health Awareness Month helps to draw our attention to how normal and necessary it is to take care of our mental health. That’s even more true now, after a year like the one we’ve had since March 2020. So in a sense, all of us gets a “hall pass.” We all probably need to prioritize some extra mental health care right now.
Q: When should a person see a trained mental health professional?
A: In my experience, most people think therapy is just venting about your issues to someone, and that’s it. If that were the case, then a good friend who is willing to listen would be sufficient.
I think it’s better to think of a trained therapist as someone who can help us work through our issues in a more focused, targeted way—accomplishing the same growth in just a fraction of the time it would take if we approached the issues more organically.
If we are feeling like we’re stuck, going in circles, or our emotional reactions under stress seem disproportionate what a situation calls for, then it’s definitely a good time to see a mental health professional.
Q: What can a parent or caregiver do to support mental health in kids and teens?
A: Watch and listen. Kids and teens process stress differently from adults. Their brains aren’t fully developed so we can’t expect them to react to stress and pain the way an adult does.
In other words, they’re usually not able to articulate their thoughts and feelings as well as an adult, and that’s normal. What probably isn’t normal (or rather “healthy” because it actually seems “normal” now) is the additional strain kids and teens are experiencing because of the pandemic and all that goes with it.
So we need to observe the kids and teens in our lives to see if their levels of anger, frustration, anxiety, and withdrawal are higher than what’s typical for them. I know it’s hard to tell the difference (what teen isn’t moody or withdrawn?) but those who know them best will have the clearest sense for what’s within their range of normal.
If they are willing to open up and engage with us, we should listen first before trying to fix or correct. Even if what they’re thinking and feeling sounds wrong, we need to simply listen and ask questions. One of the best gifts we can give someone (regardless of age) is our interest and understanding. Perhaps nothing changes in their situation, but if people feel pursued and understood, that may be all they need.
And of course, when in doubt, see if your kid or teen is willing to speak to a therapist that can help them pinpoint and express their thoughts and emotions better.
Q: How would you respond to the following? “I can’t address mental health with a professional because it’s too expensive/it takes too much time/I don’t know who to see/I’d rather just talk with a friend.”
A: I think having friends to talk with is vital and necessary. But it’s different talking to a therapist who can help cut to the heart of the matter much more quickly and help move us to a better place.
For other hesitations like “it’s too expensive,” “it will take too much time,” or “I don’t know who to see,” I think we have solutions for all of those today:
- We have therapists that will do virtual online therapy to make it incredibly convenient for those with busy schedules.
We have therapists that will see people for as little as $30 a session.
And we have therapists that are trusted and recommended by the leaders and pastors of our church.
The entire process of getting counseling through Chase Oaks is incredibly easy and accessible for anyone. We’ve made it very doable for anyone to get mental health care. It just comes down to if—or when—you‘re ready to take that first step to ask for help.
For more information and resources, visit our Care page, here.