Mental Health Awareness Month (also referred to as "Mental Health Month") has been observed in May in the United States since 1949, reaching millions of people nationally through media, local events, and screenings. Join the Town of Davidson as we celebrate Mental Health Month. Throughout the month, the town will send information through its social media channels as well as hold virtual events and classes in partnership with Davidson LifeLine.

We Don’t Have to Feel Boxed In
By Jaletta Albright Desmond, Davidson LifeLine president

We are learning to think outside of the box. We have to. Because most of us have been living inside a box, of some size and shape, for nearly three months. So, we’ve had to learn how to think and feel and process all of this with creative or new ideas—outside-the-box thinking, while inside-the-box living.

That’s what happened with the recently formed Mental Health Ministries Team at Davidson College Presbyterian Church. Committee member Cambria Nielsen explained that the group began in February with a very clear mission for its church members, “Creating awareness, reducing stigma and getting people connected with resources.”  The volunteer team consists of professionals and family members of people impacted by mental health needs. The group started arranging calendars with plans for activities to begin in May, meeting with the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to create a partnership and starting to set dates for events.

Then COVID-19 changed everything and they had to think outside that well-designed box. “We stopped all that and shifted our focus to sharing mental health information with the congregation and looking for ways to be supportive,” said Nielsen. The result was the Zoom Resilience and Support Program, meeting weekly to give folks a chance to share and connect. “I’m clear it is not a support group or some kind of therapy,” said Frank Gantz, a clinical psychologist and moderator who facilitates the Zoom meetings.

Instead, his out of the box thinking led him back to…a box of sorts. A TV screen. “Honestly, regarding the movie, it just sort of hit me as we were talking in our mental health ministry meeting that one of the things I like to do with people (other than go out to eat) is to go see a movie,” said Gantz. “It’s an easy activity and I realized I missed it…I thought watching a movie at some point during the week would be an easy way to have a shared experience to connect over. Sort of like a book club.” The group will get on a Zoom call and begin talking about their thoughts and feelings about the movie, Gantz explained, and then they start talking about how they are feeling, generally speaking.

During COVID-19 restrictions, technology became the only way some of us could connect with people outside our home. This became especially important for those providing and those needing health care, both physical and mental. Insurance companies and government policies loosened up privacy rules so patients could receive treatment via telehealth platforms or even just phone calls. Davidson mental health care professionals have been able to continue helping clients while both the practitioner and the patient sit safely at home.

“This has been a good experiment that has made me realize that I much prefer in-person contact,” said licensed clinical social worker Jeannine Bodner. “Getting accustomed to using the telehealth platforms took a bit of getting used to on my part and on the part of my clients.” Still, she added, the telehealth platforms are very simple and “even people who are not tech savvy have been able to easily connect.” Bodner described that connection as very valuable at this time, as she has been able to continue ‘seeing’ clients in her private practice through the isolation of COVID-19.

“I have been working double the amount I usually do with an influx of clients who have needed extra support or have found time to finally go to therapy,” said licensed professional counselor Meredith McDaniel. “I have had a new window into seeing the places my clients call home, it’s felt more relaxed, and not having to wear masks allows me to see their whole face and body language through the screen vs. being together in person.” McDaniel says she plans to continue with teletherapy through the summer and will re-evaluate in the fall. “Now is a great time to delve deeper into your story,” she added.

Gantz, who was one of the first practitioners to start using telehealth at Salisbury VA Medical Center about a decade ago, says he doesn’t think it’s “terribly different” from in-person work. “The facial and body cues are still there and the bottom line is you still form a relationship with the person,” said Gantz, who uses various psychotherapy tools in-person at his private practice such as clinical hypnosis, Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing and Cognitive Behavior Therapy. “There can, of course, be tech set-backs or challenges, but a good telehealth provider sets up contingencies in advance to deal with them, such as agreeing to make a phone call if the connection is lost.”

It only works for providers, though, if it is working for the clients who may feel very isolated inside their box, or especially anxious or depressed about the global pandemic and the change to their lives. “Most clients have shared that they miss our in-person sessions but are glad that we can at least connect despite the occasional technical issue,” said Bodner. She added that several are starting to ask when she will resume in-person sessions. Also, “new clients who have come along since the COVID-19 crisis have adapted well to the technology. It has been very interesting building a therapeutic relationship with never meeting in person. It is good to see that this is possible and effective. I have received positive feedback from just about everyone, which is very encouraging,” said Bodner.

One of McDaniel’s patients shared anonymously via email that, “Teletherapy for me has been vital during this time as my husband has been finding healing for addiction and while he is working from home or having his appointments, I put our baby down for a nap and get online for therapy with Meredith…If I did not have the option of counseling online, I would have been carrying all my burdens alone.”

People feeling alone in their ‘box’ is exactly what all of these Davidson providers and the DCPC Mental Health Team are trying to avoid. As we move forward, gradually opening up society and using healthy precautions, it makes sense for organizations, churches, and mental health care providers to continue using new technology and creative ways to connect and to promote mental health care and wellness.

Cardinal Innovations - A National Organization that helps provide and find support for people with mental health or behavioral needs.
Virtual Wellness Center - 30 days of wellness programs. Each day at 11:00 a.m. a free virtual training is provided.

For more information on a variety of topics on mental health, visit Cardinal Innovations blog (click here). 

Please note that the Town of Davidson does not endorse or receive funds to advertise any of the third-party sites or services listed or referenced on this page. 

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