May is Mental Health Awareness Month and I would venture to say most everyone has needed to examine their mental well-being lately. Checking in with our mental well-being is okay and during such times is a healthy and normal thing to do. It is a great time to de-stigmatize the discussion about mental health both during and after a cancer diagnosis and when facing life challenges and changes in our normal routine.
I found myself needing to monitor for feelings of anxiety and irritability in the last couple of months. In my experience any feelings of anxiety in my life were probably at their peak when concerned about my former cancer diagnosis, having family member's diagnosed with cancer, and when potentially facing Covid-19 and having difficulty breathing due to allergies. It is difficult when we can't be in control of our health and healing or can we? I became a registered yoga teacher as I coped with breast cancer in 2015 and learning basic breath work along with practicing mindful meditation has been extremely helpful over the years, but I was also aware of other supports I could benefit from being knowledgeable of skills to promote coping that I have learned as a Licensed Mental Health Professional.
None of us are immune to events around us at this time, but we can reach out for resources to help us on this journey and we don't have to do it alone. As a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, I am pleased to see the quick response many states and regulatory agencies made to help support and streamline procedures for telehealth. If you can't walk into the office of a Licensed Mental Health Provider, you can contact your insurance provider and often be connected with someone who can meet with you online for professional assistance in addition to any other tips you can benefit from for emotional well-being. This is great for personal self-care. When healing from cancer, I reached out to benefit from a survivor support group in addition to other modalities to help with my healing. As human beings we have needs for physical wellness and spiritual wellness of some kind, but we also have needs for emotional/mental wellness and sometimes this is difficult for some individuals to admit to, but there is nothing to be embarrassed or ashamed of when working on ways to manage such.
How can someone access mental health services? The first place might be to inquire with your insurance company. At this point in time, many states as I mentioned are working with mental health professionals to institute online counseling services. If you don't have insurance reach out to a local support hot-line for your town or community to inquire about mental health services should you be in need. It also does not hurt to share resources with others who may benefit from such supports that you might be aware of in your community. Some companies may also offer services and programs for individual or family counseling aside from benefits available with your insurance company. If comfortable, look into your benefits with your employer in regard to Employee Assistance Programs (EAP) which are often free and confidential if made available as part of your employee benefits. Some Cancer Support Communities may also be programming online as well as some of the cancer centers with local hospitals so reach out and inquire about services that might be a good fit for your needs and schedule.
During this time, meditation, yoga and individual or group counseling can all be positive supports for mental well-being. Supportive resources may benefit you, but may also be available for family members or caregivers who also may be in need of support.
As a word of caution if you or anyone you know of is feeling down as related to Covid-19 or a recent or ongoing cancer diagnosis that can be normal, but it can be beneficial to process feelings about your experiences with a peer support group or in an individual session. Other symptoms or changes in daily functioning may need to be taken more seriously however and warrant more immediate attention and screening. Some red flags may include but are not limited to changes to energy levels which would not normally be attributed to a physical illness, changes to mental well-being which begins to impact an individual's ability to care for themselves or others, and if losing interest in living or looking forward to the future then it definitely is important to reach out and screen symptoms further with a mental health professional along with anything you think might be a sign of needing support and help. As a community, let's support ourselves or others who may benefit from mental health services.