A Silver Lining to the Pandemic

More People are Considering Their Mental Wellness

Research shows that while one in five adults and 17% of youth will experience a mental illness in their lifetime, everyone will face challenges in life that impact their mental health—even if they are not experiencing a full-blown mental illness.

And contrary to popular belief, you do not have to wait until you are diagnosed with a mental illness or on the brink of a burnout to seek the help of a counselor or psychotherapist. The truth is, most everyone can benefit from therapy at some point in their life.

As a licensed therapist, Leah McMillan has helped thousands of patients across South Georgia over the past 18 years. In 2019, she founded EnSpire Counseling & Wellness, the first practice of its kind, serving Valdosta and surrounding communities. The practice’s unique collaborative model combines mental health, counseling and wellness services with professionals such as licensed counselors, a dual board-certified nurse practitioner, a licensed massage (neuromuscular) therapist, a speech/occupational therapist, a yoga instructor and a certified mediator all under one roof.

McMillan said the services offered at EnSpire have played a vital role for many people learning to cope with the effects of the pandemic over the past year.

“We have seen a significant increase in therapy appointments,” she said. “More individuals, families and couples are seeking counseling and psychiatric services since the start of the global pandemic.”

“In addition to the increased caseload, our cases are also more severe, and clients are experiencing more chronic symptoms,” she continued. “Our clinicians have worked tirelessly, seeing as many clients and helping as many individuals, families and couples as possible during these very chaotic and uncertain times. We are striving to be a light in the darkness for our clients. We want our community to know we are here to help them through this.”

McMillan says the most common mental health conditions seen recently that are likely related to the pandemic include:

•  Anxiety

•   Depression

•  Obsessive thinking and compulsive behavior

•  Mood disorders

•  Sleep disturbances

•  Trauma-related triggers and symptoms

•  Behavioral and concentration issues

•  Somatic complaints

•  Depersonalization

•  Self-harm thoughts and behavior

Though many adults are still learning to cope with the trauma and increased psychological distress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, McMillan says it’s important to remember that young children, school-age children and teenagers have been impacted significantly over the past 12 months as well.

“Children and teens are struggling with multiple changes, most of which are out of their control,” said McMillan. “They are grieving the loss of normalcy. They are faced with uncertainty and increased stress due to homeschooling, parents losing jobs, financial issues and social isolation. They are struggling with being isolated from friends, not being able to participate in sports, activities and many events they’ve looked forward to, like recitals, proms and graduation ceremonies. Children and teens have also experienced loss and at times have not been able to say goodbye to their loved ones due to medical restrictions. Children and teens are not only coping with their own anxiety and confusion related to the pandemic but also with their parents’ increased stress as well.”

McMillan continued, “Monitoring our children and teens’ mental and emotional health is as important as monitoring their physical health. Fifty percent of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14, so early intervention is the key in addressing a mental health issue or disorder.”

Providers at EnSpire Counseling & Wellness have significant experience and training in working with children, adolescents and adults. 

“We are able to meet children and teens where they are, build a rapport and enhance their emotional, intrapersonal, peer and familial relationships. We create healthy solutions and boundaries, assist in identifying feelings and emotions, help these clients process childhood trauma and reduce psychological distress.”

In addition to providing individual and family counseling, EnSpire also offers group therapy for tweens and adolescents and provides services in various local school systems.

How Counseling Helps People

“It is our belief at EnSpire that therapy brings restoration and transformation,” said McMillan. “Counseling is personal. Clients need to create trust, honesty and comfort with their therapist. Seeking therapy does not make an individual weak or ill but rather strong and courageous, and it enhances their optimal wellness.”

Some severe mental illnesses may require more intensive intervention, but most people can benefit from short-term, goal-oriented therapy to address a specific issue, like an interpersonal conflict, or to seek guidance from an unbiased person when making a major life decision.

“Therapists are conductors of change and transformation,” said McMillan. “They walk with their clients creating hope, healing and restoration. It is important for clients and their families to recognize that change does not happen overnight; restoration takes time. But your therapist will help you every step of the way.”

How Psychotherapy Works

“Psychotherapy helps people learn to understand their feelings and emotions and equips them with the tools necessary to face new challenges, both in the present and the future,” said McMillan.

She added that licensed therapists use psychotherapy to help clients retrain thought patterns and cognitions, which in turn can rewire the brain. 

“We help you learn to identify your feelings and emotions and identify triggers to those emotions, feelings and psychological and physiological responses,” she explained. “Therapy helps you reprocess past negative, destructive or traumatic experiences and relationships in a way so that the people or events can no longer control you.”

Therapists use techniques to assist individuals in creating their own identities; improving thought patterns and cognitions; and creating healthy behaviors and boundaries.  

The utilization of psychiatric services, including medication assessment/management and psychotherapy, can provide the following benefits:

•  Regaining emotional balance and improving emotional regulation

•  Decreasing psychological symptoms and somatic complaints

•  Decreasing depressive and anxiety symptoms

•  Trauma resolution

•  Improving healthy and positive interpersonal relationships

•  Creating and maintaining healthy and positive boundaries

•  Improving communication and personal skills

•  Increasing assertiveness

•  Improving overall wellness, self confidence and quality of life 

and decreasing stress

How to Make a Therapy Appointment

To schedule an appointment for psychotherapy/counseling, psychiatric medication assessment and management at EnSpire Counseling & Wellness, call 229-262-1000. Anyone may schedule an appointment. You do not need a referral to schedule a counseling and/or psychiatric medication assessment/management appointment. 

The following signs could indicate your loved one may be dealing with mental health issues:

•  Increased sadness or depression

•  Withdrawal or isolation; loss of interest 

•  Increased irritability and anger

•  Increased anxiety and excessive worry, including separation anxiety

•  Increased mood swings – shifts in moods, behaviors and personality

•  Loss of energy and increased fatigue

•  Changes in appetite; significant weight loss or weight gain

•  Sleep disturbances

•  Low self esteem

•  Feelings of hopelessness

•  Decrease in concentration, focus or attention

•  Somatic complaints

•  Impulsive, risk-taking or destructive behavior

•  Excessive use of alcohol or substance abuse

•  Self-harm behavior, thoughts of suicide or homicide, plans or attempts to harm self or others

•  Seeing, hearing or believing things that are not real 

•  Experience or exposure of traumatic event(s)

Six Ways You Can Help Someone In Crisis

1. Ask direct questions. 

2. Listen to their answers.

3. Let them know you care.

4. Keep them safe.

5. Tell someone you trust. 

6. Ensure they seek professional help. 

Crisis Resources:

If you or a loved one are experiencing a mental health crisis, seek assistance immediately by calling one of the following resources:

9-11

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1-800-273-TALK (8255)

Georgia Crisis & Access Hotline

1-800-715-4225

Veterans Crisis Line 

1-800-273-8255 or (Text) 838255

Written by: Megan A. Powell

Photography by: Brandon Pham

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