“(I need) positivity for moms, free therapy, anything to help me from being crazy.”
“The increased responsibility and decline in available resources for myself and my child (has been hardest.) Our outlets and interactions are limited and it’s taking a toll on the mental and emotional health of myself and my son.”
“A deadly virus, reduced access to health and therapy resources, increased isolation, no alone time and homeschooling while entertaining a toddler (has been hardest.)”
Since our pandemic study began in March, mental health has remained a top concern among over 1,500 surveyed parents, mostly Moms (96%.) And absent self-care or childcare they’re pretty distraught about what’s happening at home. But the murky big picture is adding pressure. After a fraught US election season and social justice reawakening, world events continue to trigger sadness and fear. And for many, political issues are also, deeply personal. So, it’s vital to protect our mental health. “I tell people to guard your heart. Guard your time, guard your energy, guard your personal space and be very intentional about who and what you let into your space,” said Dr. Nicole C. Braithwaite, Psychiatrist, Trauma Specialist and Entrepreneur.
Because There’s A lot to Stress About
“Social unrest and COVID-19 surges.”
“Racial violence, highly polarized country.”
“The loss of life due to the government mishandling the pandemic.”
“The rampant racism and misogyny in our society.”
When asked, surveyed parents from wave 3 (August through October) felt the most discouraged about the divisive political climate (28%) followed by the ongoing pandemic (12%.) And more people, than in previous waves of the study, cite financial hardship (5%) as an obstacle to their wellbeing. Several also expressed concern about the economy, lack of compliance with basic safety precautions, the lack of on-site school and/or fears about sending kids to school. And 5% explicitly cite racism or race relations.
The pandemic’s mental load is already intense. And when confronted with a long list of legitimate worries, it’s hard to remain optimistic. Nicole said, “Many people watch the news without realizing how negative it is and how much it impacts them. I have patients or even friends tell me after watching the news, they suddenly feel more irritable, edgy or like they have this weight and they can’t identify why.” This has led many to cry out for mental health support.
Awareness Can be Triggering
Although the challenges are disturbing, surveyed parents also expressed hope for lasting change. Many believe the pandemic will spark solutions for society’s greatest challenges. But, while we wait, marginalized communities continue to see and feel the downstream effects. And parents of color remain disillusioned by unequal access to support. Although the rise in anti-racism is positive, awareness of injustice can be emotional and triggering. Nicole nodded, “So, by hearing the negative and learning about the realities of the world, you’re also seeing that we are often portrayed in a negative light. And we internalize those feelings.” Exactly.
And Processed as Trauma
The pandemic continues to have a profound effect on the most vulnerable, including communities of color. Nicole said, “The experience of having so many of our friends and family disproportionately impacted by Covid, is traumatic. And this entire national discussion around race and racism can be traumatic. And many people of color are feeling that.” Yes.
She added, “There’s been so much evidence showing that when people of color, particularly Black people, watch videos of other people being hurt or murdered in race related violence they have the same physiological changes that they would have, if they were there or experiencing the trauma themselves. And so simply watching these videos, is traumatizing. It’s also important to recognize that the experience of Covid is traumatic.” Despite how much we’ve normalized the abnormal. Trauma, unfortunately, can surface in surprising ways.
When Stress Becomes Physical
Nicole said, “I’m seeing more people complaining of headaches, stomach aches and nausea. They’re eating too much or eating too little or sleeping too much or sleeping too little and not recognizing that is a trauma reaction. That it’s not just stress, it’s gone beyond stress. Racism is trauma and all of these (pandemic) experiences are traumatic.” An important reminder. What can we do proactively? She said, “Limit the intake of news and social media and be intentional about what you do spend your time on. So, find edifying things to read or positive things to look at.” Most parents have less time to themselves than ever. But making space for self-care or expert help, can be a game-changer.
Enlist Professional Help
Caring for mental and physical health, in all the ways, is essential to maintain resilience through this crisis. One surveyed Mom said, “(I’m) putting an emphasis on my mental health. Even though it’s rough.” Many surveyed parents are seeking therapy for themselves or their kids. But when is the right time to seek professional support? Dr. Charmain Jackman, Psychologist and Entrepreneur said, “People tend to see therapy as a resource only when there is a problem. And I really want to shift that mentality. It’s ideal to see a therapist before things get ‘really bad’ because there are more opportunities to put strategies and supports in place to help. When people wait too late, then they may require more intensive services.”
She added, “Unfortunately, that is how therapy can get a bad rap. I often hear people worry about going to therapy, because they think the therapist will try to put them in a hospital, but that is only something that we do in extreme cases.” Charmain suggests tuning into how you feel. She added, “Knowing your early signs of stress and how stress shows up in your body are excellent indicators to help you decide if a situation or set of circumstances will overwhelm you.”
Use Resources to Make the Search Easier
Many surveyed parents shared that it’s more difficult to find therapists with availability right now. Whether you’re waiting to find a professional or not, Charmain recommends, “Start to incorporate mindfulness strategies such as breathing, meditation and relaxation techniques as tools for coping with life stressors. There are lots of apps and online tools that can help with this.” Yes! She added, “The best source for finding a therapist is word-of-mouth by getting suggestions from family, friends, or your doctor. Other referral sources include your health insurance company or websites like InnoPsych,” created by Charmain to help people find therapists of color.
This year may not have started in all the ways we hoped for. But like every challenge, it holds lessons and opportunities. Set yourself up with every possible support to navigate the ongoing changes. Prioritize self-care and set boundaries to protect your time and reduce your mental load. And let’s not forget to seek help at home and at work. It’s okay to become hypervigilant about your mental wellbeing.
Share your experiences of how life has changed during social distance, it’s quick and the results from this study will be used to advocate better support for parents.
Employers, let us help you transform your workplace into an environment where caregivers thrive. Learn about Allies @ Work.
Many thanks to the talented Dr. Nicole C. Brathwaite & Dr. Charmain Jackman for their sage advice!
Please follow their great adventures:
Dr. Nicole Christian-Brathwaite, MD is a Board Certified Adult and Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist. She has significant clinical experience with adults, children, adolescents, transitional and college aged youth. After graduating from University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, she joined the Adult Psychiatry Residency Program and then completed fellowship in the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry Fellowship at Massachusetts General/Mclean Hospital. She is the Senior Vice President and Medical Director of Scheduled Services at InSight Telepsychiatry. She is also the Founder of Well Minds Psychiatry and the Co-Founder of SecureMeLink, a safety app to support the health and safety of clinicians and medical staff.
Nicole regularly provides radio interviews and speaks to the community about mental health and wellness, particularly in African American communities. Dr. Christian-Brathwaite is a member of the Advisory Board for the Post Partum Depression Fund of Massachusetts. Dr. Nicole Christian-Brathwaite is a member of the Board of Directors for Families for Depression Awareness and servers as Clinical Consultant to Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences, Lesley University, William James College, Massachusetts School Administrators Association and numerous other public and private schools and universities.
Charmain F. Jackman, Ph.D., is a licensed psychologist of Barbadian heritage and the Founder & CEO of InnoPsych, Inc. Growing up in a culture where the stigma of mental health was pervasive, but therapists of color were not, she decided that she was going to change that. Dr. Jackman has spent the last 20 years working with people of color (POC) in hospitals, clinics, courts and schools, and has consistently observed that POCs long for therapists who look like them—who understand them and who will do right by them! That knowledge has inspired Dr. Jackman to make it easier for POC to find therapists of color! She also wants to change the negative views of therapy and to educate POC about the necessity of taking care of their mental health and to empower communities to heal.