Caring for your mental health in a time of pandemic

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Doctor with stethoscope
Valley News - Health

Ashley Hutchinson, Special to Valley News

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, the Center for Disease Control said one in five Americans had a diagnosed mental illness. With staggering statistics pointing toward more than 50% of Americans being diagnosed with a mental illness in their lifetime, it is sobering to realize that around half of American counties have not a single psychiatrist or psychotherapist to provide crucial mental health care services.

I point these facts out not to be doom and gloom about the current state of mental health care in our great country, but to paint a broader picture of what may be an obstacle for far too many during this trying time.

It becomes overwhelming to think about how the novel coronavirus pandemic and quarantine will likely contribute to even higher numbers than the ones I have shared above. However, I have hope to share with you all in the form of the beauty that is psychotherapy and community resources. Therapy is for all people. I often tell patients that if you have air in your lungs and a beating heart, therapy is for you.

With numerous modalities of treatment in modern mental health care, you are likely to find a therapist who practices a form of therapy that is a complementary match to suit your needs. I personally practice a few forms of therapy including one of my personal favorites, dialectical behavioral therapy. DBT was created by a psychologist named Dr. Marsha Linehan of the University of Washington during her own struggles with borderline personality disorder. Linehan did something beautiful with her pain and used her experiences to aid in the treatment of an innumerable amount of people.

DBT is considered one of the most widely respected psychotherapy modalities in modern mental health care as it is used to treat a broad range of diagnoses including addiction, trauma, personality disorders, depression and anxiety. DBT combines various ideas like mindfulness, distress tolerance, emotional regulation and validation of one’s experiences.

One of most poignant idea from DBT everyone can apply to the current pandemic and quarantine is the practice of radical acceptance. Radical acceptance teaches us that acceptance does not equal agreement. People do not have to agree or even like a situation to accept that “it is what it is.” When they stop grappling with the illusion of control and offer up the burden of control to their higher power or the universe, they feel more at ease and less overwhelmed.

A dialectic is two seemingly opposite things that can both be true. For example, the use of “and” versus “but” becomes an important balancer between two oppositional thoughts or emotions. We can balance two diametrically opposed thoughts such as “I am terrified of this virus, and I am accepting the reality that I have no control over the virus’ spread” with the use of radical acceptance.

In the coming weeks, practice radical acceptance. Be gentle with yourself, with others and know that you are not alone. You are a worthwhile person experiencing a collectively traumatic situation with the rest of humanity. Cut yourself some slack and remember that your life matters, as does your mental health.

This article is not a replacement for mental health care treatment. If you are currently experiencing a mental health care crisis, call 911 or get to your closest emergency room.

Ashley Hutchinson is a Temecula Valley clinical therapist, social worker and an alumna of the Loma Linda University School of Behavioral Health.