Mental Healing in a Pandemic

Constant media coverage of the coronavirus pandemic can make us feel anxious and upset. It can become quite overwhelming when it is everywhere you look all the time. The new policies, rules and constant what-ifs can be draining both physically and emotionally.

But don’t worry; you are not alone in those feelings. 

“Our work didn’t stop for a pandemic, and it won’t stop for anything else. We are in the business of healing and hope, regardless of the circumstances,” said Michelle Neville , CEO at Greenleaf Behavioral Health Hospital.

Greenleaf Behavioral Health Hospital is dedicated to the treatment of mental health. The hospital structures itself around group, family and individual counseling. Their treatment programs are for adults and adolescents, whom they create different care plans for with the intent to create long-lasting effects in every patient’s life. Their services also include detoxification, partial hospitalization and recovery residence.

As we’re adjusting to a new way of life, Greenleaf acknowledges how the shift caused by the pandemic is affecting everyone and that people with no mental health history have had to deal with things they never had to before. Furthermore, people with underlying issues have had them amplified. The biggest adjustment is not knowing how and when the pandemic will end, said Neville. 

According to Brenda Keller, LPC Director of Clinical services, “Loneliness, fear, anxiety, depression, hopelessness, separation and adjustment to a new way of living are just a few ways people have had to embrace this global shift.” 

How Greenleaf Works 

Feeling overwhelmed and uneasy? The first step is literally taking the first step. The Greenleaf office is open 24/7 for calls and in-person assessments. An intake counselor will complete an evaluation and answer any of your questions to determine the appropriate level of care, based on issues presented. A typical evaluation will include a multitude of questions and prompts. If a patient is admitted, additional assessments are done to create the best treatment plan for that patient.

If you are wondering what counselors will ask, we’ve listed a few basic questions to help you prepare.

•  What brought you to this point?

•  Have you had any troubling past experiences?

•  Who are the supportive people in your life?

•  If applicable, there will be questions pertaining to substance abuse.

“We have a very compassionate staff who are able to engage the patient,” said Keller. “We do a thorough intake evaluation to paint a picture of what that person is experiencing.  If a patient is admitted to outpatient or inpatient services, additional assessments are completed to round out the treatment team and develop the best course for that patient.  Most of our therapy is group based, where patients engage in process and psycho-educational groups to work toward completion of their treatment goals. Individual therapy is offered as needed, as well as family sessions.”

But there is more to Greenleaf than helping civilians  — they also have their HERO program. The HERO acronym translates to Honor, Empower, Restore and Overcome, and HERO consists of a 20-bed unit and a program that supports veterans and active-duty military for up to 90 days. The program assists those battling with substance abuse, depression, PTSD and other mental health disorders. Greenleaf creates a personalized treatment plan that can include things like eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR); recreational and music therapies; equine therapy; community-based outings; daily physical training; and yoga. For long-lasting recovery, the staff encourages other therapeutic services, such as relapse prevention, 12-step meetings, — including Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and Narcotics Anonymous (NA) — coping skills, assertiveness training and medication management services.

Due to the pandemic, there are numerous virtual options available for those who cannot or who choose not to leave their homes. These options include assessments and even virtual groups with people facing similar issues. Greenleaf truly strives to create a chance for everyone and anyone dealing with mental illness.

Coping with the Pandemic 

This pandemic has affected all ages. While taking care of yourself is important, it is also necessary to look after your loved ones, both young and old, according to Keller. 

“I think the young and the elderly have had the toughest time adjusting. As humans, we are hardwired for connection, and when that was abruptly taken away to varying degrees, it was painful,” she pointed out. “Children are used to having a social outlet with school and extracurricular activities. Adults are used to being able to go out and have a cup of coffee or dinner with someone, go on a vacation or just go to the movies and get away from the real world for a few hours. The elderly are already at an incredible risk for isolation and loneliness.  The pandemic has complicated that in so many ways.”

Fortunately, there are a few coping methods that can be practiced to alleviate these feelings of helplessness and isolation. Small goals are key, according to Keller. Regular self-care, along with simple, attainable goals such as taking a daily walk for some fresh air, are sometimes exactly what you need. 

“What I have been telling patients and friends is to be gentle with yourself,” advised Keller. The worst memory I have of the pandemic is feeling like all I had to give wasn’t enough. I’m a therapist, but I’m also a human who had my own fears. I run a clinical team who had their own fears. And we all cared for patients who had fears of their own. There was only so much we could make better. We had to continually return to our hard work and hope that things would improve.”

“The best memory I have of the pandemic is teaching yoga on Zoom calls and my dogs interrupting every 12 seconds, sitting on my mat and getting in the way with their cute selves,” she shared. “We can help others cope by showing up. What we know for sure is that people will adjust to the best of their abilities. No, having a FaceTime call with a loved one in a nursing home is not as good as seeing a loved one in person, but it is better than not seeing them at all.  We can check on people, especially those who feel lonely at this time or who are having to work in situations that are fearful. Understand people are not okay all the time, but really listen to what is going on and offer comfort or suggestions.”

Another coping mechanism that can be beneficial for many people is creating a daily routine. Keller shared that her own routine started with a peaceful morning ritual to get her into the right headspace for the day ahead. Work benefited from sharing moments of good humor with the staff, and finally, she unwound with a variety of soothing routines in the evenings. 

“Early on, it started to feel like every day was turning into the next, like some epic occurrence of Groundhog Day,” she said. “So I started an early morning routine of setting my day up with exercise and inspirational reading before going to work. We also found humor to be very comforting in the work setting, as well as displaying extra compassion to those who were struggling.  I also closed every day with a different routine. Yoga and breathwork. Calming tea. And enough sleep to be able to show up for everything I needed to do. I gave myself a lot of grace. Putting one foot in front of the other and making it through another day is sometimes success enough.”

The pandemic may have changed our normal way of living, but it has also caused everyone to take a closer look at their own mental health, along with the mental health of loved ones. And hopefully, COVID-19 has allowed us to take more time for ourselves and enjoy the simpler things in life. Considering we only have one life to live, we should make sure we are healthy enough to enjoy it properly — and we should seek support if we find ourselves lacking. Thanks to the work of Greenleaf Behavioral Health Hospital, more individuals are learning invaluable skills to take care of themselves in new ways, come what may. 

Written by: Kaitlyne Piper

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