How to Prepare for Your First Virtual Therapy Appointment

At Valera Health, we understand that getting started with virtual therapy can feel scary—especially if you’ve never done therapy before. But our therapists and dedicated telemental healthcare team are here to help you each step of the way. 

Making the most out of each therapy session plays a key role in your healing process, which is why we’ve put together this guide all about what you need to know and do to have a successful online therapy journey. Read on to learn more.

 

What To Do Before Your First Session

Before you meet with your therapist for your first scheduled session, there’s a few things you’ll want to take care of. First, you’ll want to submit all required paperwork, which will likely include consent forms and submitting your insurance information. 

To make the most of your first session, we also recommend providing information to your therapist about your medical history. This may include sharing any previous mental health diagnoses, as well as any psychiatric medications you are currently taking. 

To prevent technical difficulties during your first session, make sure you have reliable internet as well as test your camera and microphone in advance. Whether you’ll be meeting with your therapist on your phone, computer or tablet, make sure to sit down and fire up your device at least five to ten minutes before your session. 

Being in a comfortable, quiet environment for your therapy appointment will help you have a successful and rewarding session with your therapist. This means meeting with your therapist at home, not in public. Have a notepad and pen within arms reach during the session so you can jot down notes or questions for your therapist. 

To avoid interruptions, let your roommates/household members know what time and day you have your appointment in advance. If you have thin walls, consider investing in a white noise sound machine so others can’t overhear you during your session.

 

Questions to Ask Your Therapist

If this is your first time in therapy, you might be unsure what to expect. That’s why it’s a great idea to come up with a list of questions for your therapist before your first appointment. This will not only help you get to know your therapist better, but also help you understand the therapeutic process better.

Here are some ideas of questions to ask to get you started:

  1. How would you describe your approach as a therapist?
  2. What is your experience with treating my condition?
  3. What type of therapy do you recommend for my condition? Can you tell me more about how this type of therapy works?
  4. How long will therapy last?
  5. Will you take a more directive, or less directive role in our sessions?
  6. What is your availability like if I need to talk to you or ask questions outside of scheduled therapy sessions?
  7. How do you prefer to be communicated with outside of therapy sessions?
  8. How do you handle emergencies? What’s the best way for me to reach out to you if I have an emergency?

 

Treatment Goals

Your first therapy session will be centered around the intake process, which is the foundation to developing a treatment plan with your therapist. However, it may take you a couple of sessions to develop a full treatment plan with your therapist.

While your therapist will work with you to come up with a solid treatment plan, it can be helpful to think about your treatment goals before your first session. Ask yourself “What is driving me to therapy in the first place?” Reflect on any distressing thoughts or feelings, or other symptoms you’ve been experiencing lately, such as feelings of sadness, increased anxiety, trouble sleeping, trouble concentrating, etc. Think about what areas of your life you want to improve.  Write down the answers in a journal so you can have notes ready to discuss with your provider. Be as thorough as possible when discussing this with your therapist. From there, they will help you come up with actionable steps you can take inside and outside of therapy to achieve your goals. 

 

Additional Tips

  • Relax before therapy and take time for self-care
    • While the thought of starting therapy can be nerve racking, your therapist is there to help you. Carve out time to unwind and tend to your needs before and after each therapy session.
  • Ask clarifying questions if you’re confused about anything your therapist says.
    • Therapy is a learning process and your therapist is here to help you learn.
  • Therapy is an ongoing process, inside and outside of each session. 
    • It’s important for your growth and healing to practice what you learn in therapy outside of your regular therapy sessions. 
    • To make the most of your experience, do any recommended exercises your therapist gives you in between sessions.
    • Take note of how you’re feeling each day by journaling.
      • Write down stressors and things that come up between each session to discuss with your therapist. 

Ready to get started? Our diverse team of compassionate therapists are highly trained in providing virtual therapy services to treat a wide-array of symptoms and mental illnesses, including depression, anxiety and Serious Mental Illnesses (SMI) such as bipolar I & II, personality disorders, schizophrenia and more. 

To learn more, request a free consultation with a designated health connector or visit valerahealth.com. 

More than Just the Holiday Blues: Winter Depression, Stress & SAD

 

Holidays are known for being a joyful time of celebration and winter cheer. But for some, this isn’t the case. If you’re feeling extra stressed or sad during the holidays, you aren’t the only one. In fact, late fall and winter have some of the highest rates of depression—thanks to stress, loneliness and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

 

What is SAD?

While feeling down due to shorter days and less daylight in the fall and winter can be common, Seasonal Affective Disorder occurs in cases where “…these mood changes are more serious and can affect how a person feels, thinks and handles daily activities,” according to the National Institute of Mental Health. 

SAD is considered to be a type of depression characterized by a recurring seasonal pattern, with depression symptoms lasting four to five months out of the year. People with major depression disorder, bipolar disorder type I and bipolar disorder type II are more likely to experience SAD.

Most of the symptoms of SAD are the same symptoms that occur in major depression, including:

  • Feeling depressed most days
  • Loss of interest in activities and hobbies you once enjoyed
  • Appetite or weight changes
  • Low energy levels or fatigue
  • Sleep issues
  • Feeling hopeless
  • Feeling worthless
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors

 

Additional seasonal specific symptoms of SAD include:

  • Oversleeping (a.k.a. hypersomnia)
  • An increased craving for carbohydrates
  • Overeating
  • Weight gain
  • Social withdrawal

 

For more information about SAD, as well as tips for treating SAD, click here.

 

 

What causes the “Holiday Blues”?

Other causes of the “holiday blues” a.k.a. increased stress and/or sadness during the holidays may include:

  • Increased financial stress
  • Family trauma
  • Social isolation
  • Grief
  • Unrealistic expectations
  • Not being able to be with loved ones (family or friends) over the holidays
  • Over-commercialization of the holidays

 

Coping with the “Holiday Blues”

Check out this infographic from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) is full of great tips for combating the holiday blues.

If you’re experiencing symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder, or in need of some extra support this holiday season, consider therapy. Valera Health offers convenient telemental health services including therapy and psychiatry services. Visit www.valerahealth.com or click here to learn more and schedule your free initial consultation with a designated Health Connector. 

We Need to Talk About Men’s Mental Health

When it comes to gender, mental illness doesn’t discriminate. Unfortunately, masculine norms do. The societal rules and expected behavior associated with manhood prevalent in American culture create a barrier for men, preventing them from seeking help for their mental health—or even realizing they may be having issues in the first place. 

Data from the 2020 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) shows a disparity between women (51.2%) and men (37.4%) with any mental illness (AMI) who receive some form of mental healthcare treatment.

Sadly, this stigma also likely leads to an underdiagnosis of mental illnesses and other mental health issues in men. 

“Mental health issues are often associated with weakness or a character flaw,” explains Alan Fong, Clinical Director of Valera Health. “However, talking about mental health and seeking help takes courage and strength.”

 

Common Mental Health Issues For Men

The following information about major mental health problems affecting men comes from Mental Health America (MHA). Due to the disparities between men and women seeking mental healthcare/treatment, it’s estimated that numbers and percentages in the following statistics may actually be higher than data that is currently available.

  1. DEPRESSION: While the current number of men suffering depression each year is over six million, depression in men often goes undiagnosed. According to MHA, “Men are more likely to report fatigue, irritability, loss of interest in work or hobbies, rather than feelings of sadness or worthlessness.”
  2. ANXIETY: For American adults ages 18 to 54, approximately 19.1 million have an anxiety disorder. Reportedly, Over three million men suffer from panic disorder, agoraphobia and other phobias.
  3. BIPOLAR DISORDER: Currently, 2.3 million Americans are affected by bipolar disorder. An equal amount of both men and women develop bipolar disorder, with the average age of onset for men being from 16 to 25 years of age.
  4. PSYCHOSIS & SCHIZOPHRENIA: Schizophrenia is one of the leading causes of disability in the U.S., and 3.5 million people in the country are diagnosed with this illness—the majority of which are men. By age 30, 90% of those diagnosed with schizophrenia are men.
  5. EATING DISORDERS: Men make up approximately 10% of patients diagnosed with anorexia and/or bulimia as well as 35% of patients diagnosed with binge-eating disorder. However, these numbers are likely to be higher as men are less likely to seek professional help for eating disorders than women.
  6. SUBSTANCE ABUSE: Approximately 1 in 5 men will develop an alcohol dependency during the course of their lives. The alcohol dependency rate is higher in gay and bisexual men, who are more likely to have higher rates of substance abuse than heterosexual men. Regardless of their form of service, male veterans experience nearly twice the rate of alcohol and drug use as women.
  7. SUICIDE: The highest rates of suicide in the U.S. are found in caucasian men over the age of 85. Since 2000, male suicide rates have been on the rise. Consequently, suicide is now the 7th leading cause of death among men, accounting for 2.2% of all male deaths in 2011. Suicide rates affect LGBTQ+ men disproportionately. Gay and bisexual men are shown to have an increased risk for suicide attempts when compared to heterosexual men, especially before the age of 25. Over four times as many men in the U.S. die from suicide as women. In 2010, for example, 38,364 Americans died from suicide. Men accounted for 79% of the aforementioned suicide rate. Contributing factors to male suicide rates include—but are not limited to—social isolation, substance abuse, unemployment, military-related trauma (including PTSD), genetic predisposition and mood disorders, according to MHA.
 
 

Other Barriers to Treatment

“There are a number of factors why men may experience internal or external barriers to receiving care,” says Fong. “Men may face gender stereotypes and be seen as weak for seeking help. There may also be cultural considerations of masculinity that teach boys and men to minimize their feelings. Among BIPOC communities, mistrust of the medical establishment and the assumption that problems can be resolved within the family system are also huge barriers to treatment.”

“We’ve made great strides in decreasing the stigma of mental health care,” he adds. “But we also have more work to do, especially in meeting the needs of anyone who identifies as a man.”

Providers have to be cognizant that the way symptoms of certain mental illnesses present themselves in men can be different then how they are presented in women.

For example, men exhibiting signs of depression may appear angry or aggressive, rather than sad, an emotion more commonly associated with depression. Depression and anxiety can also manifest as physical symptoms, such as frequent headaches, gastrointestinal or digestive issues, a tightening heart or a racing chest. Men are more likely to go to the doctor for physical symptoms than they are to go to a therapist or psychiatrist for emotional symptoms—meaning the underlying cause behind these physical symptoms may get missed. 

Men may also be less likely to talk about their feelings than women are, since historically, discussing feelings has been stigmatized and not being “manly.”

However, this couldn’t be further from the truth—opening up and being vulnerable isn’t an easy thing to do, and doing so doesn’t make you less of a man. But, discussing your feelings can help you develop emotional strength and emotional intelligence (the ability to manage and understand your own emotions).

 

Final Thoughts

Help is available, and you are worth it.

Valera Health offers telemental health care services—including therapy, psychiatry and medication management—from expert providers.

Our diverse team of compassionate mental healthcare specialists are highly trained in serving patients of all genders and in communities such as the LGBTQ+ community; children, adolescents and families; those going through difficult transitions of all kinds; those with Serious Mental Illnesses (SMI) such as bipolar I & II, personality disorders and schizophrenia; and much more. 

To learn more, request a free consultation with one of our health connectors or visit valerahealth.com. 

 

Mental Health Awareness for Parents: What to Know & How to Help

Just as we care for our households, our pets and our physical health, it’s important to also take care of our mental health and wellness. Mental health can present itself in many ways and is unique to each person’s experience. For children and adolescents, understanding and expressing their emotions can be particularly challenging. This especially holds true when there are compounding social stressors out of children’s and teenagers control, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. 

 

The Truth Behind Youth Mental Health 

According to the National Alliance of Mental Health, “1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-12 experience a mental health disorder each year” and “50% of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14.”

More severely, “Suicide is the second leading cause of death among people aged 10-34.” As parents and caregivers, it’s important to recognize the signs that your child might be struggling with their mental health and more acutely, knowing what you can do to help. Children and adolescents may be reluctant to share if they are struggling due to fear of embarrassment, feeling there is something wrong with them, or not wanting their parents or caregivers to worry. 

Part of supporting your child with their mental wellness is also fighting against the stigma around mental health, and assuring your child that they are not alone. Resources and support are available.

 

Warning Signs of Mental Health Issues in Children & Teens

Our clinical team recommends keeping an eye out for the following signs that your child may be struggling with their mental health. It is important to keep in mind that while both children and teens may experience similar symptoms, due to their developmental differences the presentation of these symptoms can appear very differently. 

For example, younger children who are still learning to identify and express their emotions might gravitate more towards behavioral representations of how they feel, such as having temper tantrums. Teens, on the other hand, might experience their feelings on a more global scale, such as questioning their world or feeling a lack of security amongst others.

Children (and teens) may be experiencing an increase in anxiety and depressive symptoms. This can impact their school performance, sleep patterns, eating habits, and their ability to self-regulate their emotions. For instance, some children might present as more hyperactive or become increasingly irritable and present a low mood

Additionally, they may have a lower tolerance for stressors, difficulty concentrating on tasks, and report physical ailments such as headaches or stomach aches. In some cases, children might struggle to practice personal hygiene, or they might seem overly obsessive with cleanliness or completing other daily rituals. Lastly, your child may talk about or think about death, or they may make comments such as “I wish I wasn’t here anymore.” Take notice of these statements and seek support if you have concerns. 

Teens may also experience more profound mood changes beyond what is considered developmentally typical. For instance, they may present unusual “highs” and “lows” in their mood for periods of time.

Other symptoms may include:

  • Feeling numb (internally and in how they relate to others)
  • Thinking or talking about suicide
  • Showing increased Isolation from social events or usually preferred activities
  • Exhibiting poor decision making
  • Exhibiting an increase in risky behaviors—such as misuse of substances, unsafe sexual behavior, limiting food intake, aggression, illicit activities or self-harming
  • Hearing, seeing, or feeling things that are not really there, also known as hallucinations or delusions
  • Struggling with navigating their growing independence, which may be impacted by low self-esteem or excessive worrying

 

 

How to Support Your Child’s Mental Wellness

Being a parent and caregiver is a big job, but you don’t have to do it alone! There are many tips and tools to help promote mental wellness in your household and supportive mental health professionals are available if needed. Building your awareness of childhood mental health is a great first step. Our clinical team has gathered some helpful tips and tools to support you and your child through this journey.

Talk It Out

Practice talking with your child about their mental health. Part of breaking the stigma that having a mental health condition means there’s something wrong with them involves normalizing your child’s experience and reassuring them that they are not at fault. Create an open, safe space for your child to explore their feelings without fear of shame or judgment. Let your child know that it’s okay to not be okay.

Active Listening 

A big piece of healthy communication also includes actively listening to what the other person is saying. Observe not only what your child is saying out loud, but also take note of their tone of voice, body language, facial expressions and the meaning behind their words. Practice asking open-ended questions, such as “how did that make you feel?” rather than leading questions, such as “did you feel angry when she said that?” 

Show your child that you’re curious and interested in what they have to say. Validate their feelings, even if you don’t personally agree with them. Showing someone that you understand their experience helps to build trust and does not necessarily mean you are condoning any types of behaviors.

Role Model

Parents and caregivers are often the first role models children experience. Practice modeling for your child how to express emotions in a healthy way, including when you feel happy, angry, or sad. Consider talking about your own experiences with your children, such as sharing coping strategies that you have personally found helpful. Let your child see you ask for help, even for the little things, to show them that reaching out to others can be a sign of strength. Practice your own self-care and create a self-care plan for your child.

Routines

Having clear and consistent routines and expectations helps to promote a safe environment for your child. Particularly when there are stressors out of the child’s control, having a predictable daily routine helps to promote healthy habits across the board and mitigates unnecessary worrying. This might include having set meal times, sleep schedules and transition plans, as well as knowing what is allowable and thus what consequences might be put into effect. 

Celebrate Strengths

Highlight your child’s many strengths, even during the hard times. Encourage your child’s talents and skills. Engage them in positive outlets, hobbies and opportunities for social connections. Acknowledge both the good and bad times. Celebrate your child’s accomplishments while also being fair with consequences for misbehavior.

 

Final Thoughts & Additional Resources

Here are some additional resources with information on mental health risks, warning signs, and available support:

If your child is experiencing challenges with their mental health, consider reaching out for additional support.

Here are some helpful resources that you or your child can use:

  • NAMI HelpLine
    • Call #1-800-950-NAMI (6264), text #62640, chat nami.org/help or email HelpLine@nami.org
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline – Call 800-273-TALK (8255), available 24/7
  • Crisis Text Line – Text NAMI to 741-741
    • Connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.
  • National Crisis Text Line- Call or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org 
    • Connect with a trained crisis counselor. 988 is confidential, free, and available 24/7.

If you feel your child may need to speak with a professional for ongoing care, your primary care provider and/or insurance plan can be a good place to start for referrals. Valera Health also offers telemental health for children and adolescents, including individual therapy and psychiatry services. Visit www.valerahealth.com to or click here to request a consultation.

Internet Bullying: Warning Signs & How You Can Help

While technology brings many joys such as connection, funny videos, and unlimited resources, it also presents youth with added social pressures and risks that they may not know how to navigate on their own. Cyberbullying is one type of risk that can have very large impacts on children and adolescents, and can take place virtually anywhere. Your child might be ashamed or afraid to admit if they are being bullied, or they may keep quiet due to not wanting their parents to worry about them. 

Here are some key tips from our clinical team on how to spot signs of bullying and what you as their caregiver can do to help.

 

Signs Your Child Might Be a Victim of Bullying

Children and teens who are experiencing bullying by their peers might be reluctant to talk about it to others. This can be due to fear, embarrassment, not wanting their parents to worry, low self-esteem, or, in some cases, they may lack the know-how to express themselves. Instead, mental health professionals have found that many children will exhibit “warning signs” that they need help through their behaviors.

Here are some warning signs that your child may be a victim of bullying:

  • School refusal or avoidance
  • A sudden decrease in academic performance
  • Increased isolation from others
  • Expressing disinterest in favorite activities
  • Low self-confidence
  • Self-deprecating statements
  • Sudden mood changes
  • Frequent reports of physical ailments (like headaches or stomach aches)
  • Physical injuries without a clear explanation
  • Returning home with damaged or missing belongings

You may also observe your child becoming upset during or after using technology, spending an unusual time online or ceasing internet use altogether, or hiding what they’re doing on the internet when a caregiver is present.

 

How to Talk to Your Child About Bullying

If you suspect your child may be a victim of cyberbullying or other types of bullying, it is important that you, as their trusted caregiver, help create a sense of safety and openness for communication.

Active listening is an excellent way to show your child that you are present and genuinely care about what they have to say. Reassure your child that you are here to help and let them know the bullying is not their fault. Finding ways to problem solve together can be very empowering for your child.

You might feel that involving the school is the next best step. Talk to your child about your plans and encourage their participation in the process if they are comfortable. Identify other safe adults at school or in their other social environments that they can reach out to for support when needed.

Praise your child for having the courage to tell you about the bullying. Consider connecting your child to a mental health counselor for additional support.

 

How to Support a Child Who is Bullying Someone Else

Some children or teens who are struggling with their mental health or other life challenges might have a difficult time managing their emotions in social settings. This can impact their ability to connect with others in a socially appropriate and safe way. If you have concerns that your child or teen is acting out aggressively—either verbally or physically towards others—and is engaging in bullying behaviors, it is important to recognize that these behaviors are likely a coverup for bigger emotions, and they too are in need of support from caring adults.

Identify a safe and trusting adult your child might be comfortable talking with. This might be yourself, a close family member, or even a school guidance counselor. Have a discussion around their feelings and the impact of their behaviors on themselves and others. Work on setting clear limits around what is acceptable and unacceptable behavior, particularly around maintaining safety for your child and those around them. Practice building empathy. For young children, this might be through play and social stories. For older children, this might look like building insight into their own emotions, fostering positive social connections and promoting a sense of purpose and belonging to their immediate and larger community. Praise your child when they make good, pro-social and empathetic choices. Also consider seeking additional support from a mental health counselor.

Internet Safety

While one’s first instinct might be to limit internet use altogether, clinical experts recommend instead teaching your child to be a responsible internet user. It is important that children learn how to safely navigate social situations, including online social interactions, so they can better develop social, emotional and problem solving skills later in life.

Some helpful tips to practice are:

  • Talking to your child about what they are doing on the internet. Your child might be fearful of having their phone or internet privileges taken away if they tell the truth. To help them speak honestly, consider other solutions to address your concerns and keep your child safe without punishment. 
  • Develop rules for electronic and internet use. Explore with your child what is acceptable and unacceptable to do on the internet. It’s also important to have a plan in place for if your child experiences or witnesses inappropriate behavior on the internet.
  • Educate yourself on the devices and social media platforms your child is using. Assess the pros and cons of these platforms and learn more about what benefits your child may be gaining, as well as what risks are involved. Collaborate with other caregivers and the school for ideas around technology use and what can be done to enhance your children’s safety as a community.

 

Final Thoughts & Additional Resources

If your child is experiencing challenges with their mental health as a result of bullying or other concerns, consider reaching out for additional support.

Here are some helpful resources that you or your child can use:

  • NAMI HelpLine — Call #1-800-950-NAMI (6264), text #62640, chat nami.org/help or email at HelpLine@nami.org
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — Call 800-273-TALK (8255), available 24/7
  • Crisis Text Line — Text NAMI to 741-741
    • Connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.
  • National Crisis Text Line — Call or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org 
  • Connect with a trained crisis counselor. 988 is confidential, free, and available 24/7.

If you feel your child may need to speak with a professional for ongoing care, your primary care provider and/or insurance plan can be a good place to start for referrals. Valera Health also offers telemental health for children and adolescents ages six and up, including individual therapy and psychiatry services. Visit www.valerahealth.com or click here to request a consultation.

What We Can Learn from World Mental Health Day 2022

First celebrated in 1992 and organized by the World Health Organization (WHO), World Mental Health Day is a global campaign in support of mental health awareness, education and advocacy. 

This year’s theme, “Make mental health and well-being a global priority” approaches improving mental healthcare from a community perspective.

Further explaining the goals of Word Mental Health Day 2022 (observed on October 10), WHO said the following: 

“Whilst the pandemic has, and continues to, take its toll on our mental health, the ability to reconnect through World Mental Health Day 2022 will provide us with an opportunity to rekindle our efforts to protect and improve mental health.” 

It’s in this spirit that we share ways in which we can make our own mental health needs a priority, as well as how to support others with their mental health.

The Current State of Mental Health

WHO summarized the current state of mental health globally with the following statement:

 “The COVID-19 pandemic has created a global crisis for mental health, fueling short- and long-term stresses and undermining the mental health of millions. Estimates put the rise in both anxiety and depressive disorders at more than 25% during the first year of the pandemic. At the same time, mental health services have been severely disrupted and the treatment gap for mental health conditions has widened.”

This infographic featuring data from Mental Health America’s annual The State of Mental Health in America (2022) report provides additional insight into the current state of mental health in the U.S.

While the statistics may be daunting, we can change things for the better starting with ourselves and with the communities closest to us. 

 
 
                                                                        Source: Mental Health America
 
 

The Importance of Checking In on Your Own Mental Health

As the old adage goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” In order to give our best selves to others, we must first start by taking care of ourselves first and foremost. This starts with self-care, introspection and good therapeutic, physical and mental practices. 

So how can you tell if you may be struggling with your mental health? Through regular self check-ins!

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to get you started… 

  1. How am I feeling today?
  2. How have I been feeling emotionally?
  3. What worries have I had recently?
  4. How has my sleep been recently? Have I been getting too little or too much sleep?
  5. Do I need to take frequent naps just to get through the day?
  6. How have I been feeling physically?
  7. Have I noticed any physical symptoms lately such as frequent headaches, stomach aches, fatigue, weight loss or weight gain?
  8. Have I been feeling distracted lately or having trouble concentrating?
  9. Do I regularly participate in activities that I enjoy, or do I find myself losing interest in my hobbies?
  10. Do I feel overwhelmed or burnt out?

It’s easy to get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of life that we forget to reflect on how we are actually doing. By taking just a few minutes to check in with yourself each day, or even once a week, we can keep on top of our mental health care routine, and notice when we might need extra help, such as through therapy. 

In addition to individual therapy, group therapy can be a great way to build community, improve your mental health, and learn from and connect with others going through similar struggles. 

To learn more about both individual and group therapy options through Valera Health, click here to request a free consultation with a dedicated health connector or visit valerahealth.com. 

We’re In This Together: A Community Approach to Mental Health

In addition to taking care of our own mental health, there are many ways we can approach mental healthcare as a community. 

This can include many things such as giving more compliments, challenging yourself to at least one act of kindness per day, checking up on friends and family, and volunteering and/or donating to mental health organizations such as the National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI), Mental Health America or others. 

Additional Support

If you or a loved one is in need of additional support for your mental health, Valera Health offers affordable telemental health services including therapy and psychiatry for patients ages 6-and-up. 

Our diverse team of compassionate mental healthcare specialists are highly trained in serving patients in communities such as the LGBTQ+ community; children, adolescents and families; those going through difficult transitions of all kinds; those with Serious Mental Illnesses (SMI) such as bipolar I & II, personality disorders and schizophrenia; and much more. 

To learn more, request a free consultation with one of our health connectors or visit valerahealth.com. 

Back to School: Navigating Education, COVID-19 & Mental Health

Returning to in-person school after experiencing many changes during the pandemic can be overwhelming and even scary for both you and your child. In these times, it’s important to remember that you and your child are resilient.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, many families experienced loss—including a loss of normalcy, routines, employment, financial resources, loved ones, security, social activities, and more. 

For children and teens, these changes disrupted not just their social experiences, but also their education. As caregivers, it’s important to recognize the signs that your child may be struggling with their social, emotional and mental health. 

Keep reading for tools from Valera Health’s clinical team of mental health experts to help your child adjust to the new school year and to grow their social, emotional, and learning skills along the way!

 

Signs that Your Child May Be Struggling with Their Mental Health

Although both children and adolescents may struggle with their mental health, the way this is presented can appear differently in each due to their different developmental ages. 

For instance, both children and adolescents might experience an increase in anxiety and/or depression, however younger children may struggle to understand or put words to how they are feeling. Therefore, their more obvious symptoms can be observed through their behaviors. Examples of these behaviors include frequent tantrums, frequent nightmares, disobedience or aggression, hyperactivity, excessive worrying, obsessive ritualistic behaviors, or avoidance of bed or school. 

Both children and adolescents may also experience a lower tolerance for stressful situations, poor concentration, changes in their eating or sleeping habits, poor school performance, and increased reports of physical ailments. Additionally, adolescents may develop negative beliefs about the world around them, such as a perceived lack of safety or hopelessness. Adolescents may also engage in increased risk behaviors, as well as experiencing unusual “highs” or “lows” in their mood. 

 

Responding to Your Child’s Mental Health Needs

Being a parent and caregiver is a huge job in its own right, let alone during a pandemic. Any child is at risk for developing mental health concerns, but knowing the warning signs and building a toolbox can help improve their health outcomes. 

Here are some tips & tools to help make your job easier…

Remember, you are not alone. Practice talking to your child about their mental health. Active listening and validating your child’s feelings can help create a safe space to explore what’s going on beneath the surface. Let your child know that it’s okay to not be okay. Normalize having a range of emotions and be a role model by talking about your own feelings and experiences in a healthy way. 

Don’t be afraid to ask the hard questions while also understanding your child might need time to feel ready and comfortable sharing. Reassure your child they are not at fault for struggling with their mental health. Children may internalize their conditions as a personal fault or fixed part of their personality. 

Helping to fight this stigma and reframe how your child views themselves can help promote a positive self-esteem. Celebrate your child’s strengths and promote healthy outlets and social connections. Set clear and consistent routines and expectations. Practice your own self-care and create a self-care plan for your child.

Preparing to Go Back to School

In the whirlwind of the back to school season, many parents and caregivers express feeling overwhelmed with knowing where to get started. For some, this might be your first time sending your child off to school and for others, their children may have experienced disruptions in their learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

It’s natural to have questions and concerns about what to expect this school year and how you can support your child with navigating any new changes that might come up. That’s why our clinical team has put together some recommendations and guidelines to help you start this school year off right!.

To prepare your child for their change in routine, it’s helpful to create up a predictable day and night routine for your child before the first day of school. This will allow them to build healthy sleep habits as well as get them into a rhythm that will make the transition to school smoother. 

Make a list of any concerns that you or your child might have. Writing these out will provide an opportunity to process these concerns and to brainstorm possible solutions together. 

Discuss with your child what the school day will look like. Explain any new or unfamiliar routines and make a plan for transportation to and from school each day. If your child plans to bring themselves to school, consider having them practice their route ahead of time. Gather any needed tools for school in advance such as a backpack, writing utensils, notebooks, etc.. We recommend checking to see if your school has a list available. 

If your child has any dietary needs, talk to their school in advance to make a feeding plan and to learn about their options. For young children, start implementing learning into your child’s day to day through fun activities. This will help spark their interest in growth and get them excited about school. 

Social Emotional Building

During the pandemic, many children and families experienced social isolation among other hardships. Your child may benefit from opportunities to practice their language vocabulary, communication and social emotional skills. Sesame Street in Communities has some great resources to help your child grow these skills as they prepare to enter new social situations. 

Also consider pretend play to help your child process their feelings about school both before and during the school year. Building connections between your child and their community—such as through sports, clubs, and recreation centers—will provide your child with opportunities to foster their talents while also developing healthy social bonds in a structured and supportive setting.

The Impact of COVID-19 on Schools

Your child may experience periods of learning from home due to COVID-19 quarantines, lockdowns or even some snow days. 

Although these events are hard to predict, we can do our best to prepare for these possibilities to make these transitions smoother for you and your family and to mitigate disruptions in learning. 

Here are some questions to ask your child’s school to better know what to expect: 

  • Ask about school arrival/departure times and locations. 
  • How is the school managing social distancing, cleaning, face masks, ventilation, and other hygienic measures?
  • How will the school respond to COVID-19 cases and are there policies regarding testing, timelines to return to school, and homework support? 
  • Learn what the plan will be for recess, lunch time, extracurricular activities and other school facilities such as the library and gym. 
  • Discuss what support is available to promote students’ mental health and wellbeing. 
  • If your child is transitioning schools, they may not have had the opportunity to visit ahead of time. Contact the school to see what options are available for touring the school.
  • If your child has an IEP or 504 accommodation plan in place, or if you feel your child might benefit from one, discuss with the school how they plan to meet these accommodations and provide any testing if needed.

During the pandemic, many children and families experienced social isolation among other hardships. Your child may benefit from opportunities to practice their language vocabulary, communication and social emotional skills. Sesame Street in Communities has some great resources to help your child grow these skills as they prepare to enter new social situations.

At-home Learning

Whether you and your child are new or experienced with at-home learning, it is important to set up an environment that will be intuitive to your child’s educational needs as well as your household environment. This can be done through staying connected with your child’s school to keep up-to-date with learning assignments, expectations and progress, as well as any learning challenges. 

Set up a daily home and learning routine that is predictable and clear. Help your child follow their routines through building their independence and time management skills. Set up a comfortable workspace for your child. Check in regularly with them about their feelings and any concerns they may have. Provide praise and encouragement for their efforts. If you are in need of technology assistance, consider reaching out to other parents, the school, or your local library for support. 

Finally, don’t forget to practice your own self-care! Setting personal boundaries is also helpful. Remember to be kind to yourself, especially when faced with a role you may not have anticipated taking on.

Final Thoughts & Additional Resources

Here are additional resources to help you and your child prepare for back-to-school:

Here are some helpful resources that you or your child can use:

  • NAMI HelpLine — Call #1-800-950-NAMI (6264), text #62640, chat nami.org/help or email at HelpLine@nami.org
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline — Call 800-273-TALK (8255), available 24/7
  • Crisis Text Line — Text NAMI to 741-741
    • Connect with a trained crisis counselor to receive free, 24/7 crisis support via text message.
  • National Crisis Text Line — Call or text 988 or chat at 988lifeline.org 
    • Connect with a trained crisis counselor. 988 is confidential, free, and available 24/7.

If you feel your child may need to speak with a professional for ongoing care, your primary care provider and/or insurance plan can be a good place to start for referrals. Valera Health also offers telemental health for children and adolescents, including individual therapy and psychiatry services. Visit www.valerahealth.com or click here to request a consultation.

Know the Signs: Suicide Warning Signs & Prevention Resources

Suicide can be a painful, touchy and even taboo topic. However, awareness, education and erasing the stigma are paramount to prevention. Suicidal thoughts can affect anyone—regardless of age, gender, racial identity, income, status or background. 

Suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2020. and second leading cause of death among people ages 10-14 and 25-34, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). It’s estimated from CDC data that from 2015 to 2019, over 10 million adults in the U.S. reported having suicidal thoughts in the last year. 

If you have ever experienced suicidal thoughts, know that you are not alone, and that there is no shame in getting help. 

By knowing the warning signs of suicide, encouraging others—and ourselves—to seek help when experiencing suicidal thoughts, and sharing where to get help, we can change these harrowing statistics for the better and save lives. 

 

 

Warning Signs of Suicide & Suicidal Thoughts

  • Wanting to die
  • Preoccupation with death
  • Planning out a specific way (or ways) to end your life
  • Feeling trapped 
  • Feeling intolerable pain
  • Severe depressive feelings
  • Feelings of emptiness or hopelessness
  • Feeling like a burden to others
  • Withdrawing from hobbies and interests that once brought you joy
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Displaying extreme mood swings
  • Constant agitation and/or anxiety
  • Giving away treasured personal belongings
  • Other behavior of preparing for death, such as drawing a will or writing notes to loved ones
  • Increased substance abuse and participating in other risky or reckless behaviors

While not everyone with the aforementioned warning signs/risk factors will attempt suicide, it’s still important to reach out for help if you or someone you know is at risk for suicide—especially if you or they present multiple warning signs of suicidal ideation. For more information on how to approach the subject of suicidal thoughts and ask for help—as well as how to offer help to someone else who may be suicidal—check out this article by Greatist

Bottom line: If you or a loved one are at risk of suicide, seek help immediately.

 
 
 
 

How to Get Help

There are resources and options available for those considering suicide or displaying suicidal warning signs.

In addition to emergency suicide resources, therapy can play a key role in recovering from suicidal thoughts, depression, anxiety and other mental illnesses and mental health issues. Valera Health offers comprehensive, quality care for a diverse range of populations, including those ages 6 and up, the LGBTQ+ community, other minority groups and those experiencing acute to chronic mental illness, including those with Serious Mental Illnesses (SMI)—including those with bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and other mood and personality disorders. To learn more or schedule a free consultation with a designated Health Connector today, visit www.valerahealth.com or click here.  

 

 

How to Stress Less this National Relaxation Day

If you’ve been feeling extra stressed lately, you’re not alone. Multiple studies—including Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2022 Report—show that U.S. workers are some of the most stressed out employees in the world. According to the report, globally workers’ stress levels are at an all time high— with working women in Canada and the U.S. among the most stressed workers in the world.

According to the March 2022 Stress in AmericaTM survey conducted by the American Psychological Association, stress among Americans about money and the economy is on the rise. 65% of respondents reported that concerns about money and the economy were a significant source of stress as of February 2022. Among other stressors, 81% of survey respondents reported that global uncertainty is a significant source of stress. 

National Relaxation Day, celebrated annually on August 15, is an important reminder that we need to take an active approach to reduce stress.

But first, in order to better understand how to reduce stress, we must understand the role it plays in our lives and how it affects the body and brain…

So then, what is stress?

Stress is defined as an innate response encompassing the body’s physical, mental and emotional reactions to external stressors. Stress can be both positive (eustress) or negative (distress). 

While stress is a totally natural part of everyday life, too much stress and/or chronic stress (long-term, elevated stress levels) can lead to behavioral, physical and emotional symptoms. 

Physical symptoms of chronic stress can include:

  • Aches & pains
  • Increased risk of coronary heart disease and stroke (Nature Reviews Cardiology, 2018)
  • Chest pain
  • Headaches, dizziness or shaking
  • High blood pressure
  • Muscle tension
  • Jaw clenching
  • Digestive problems
  • Weakened immune system
  • Sexual dysfunction
  • Sleep issues (such as too much or too little sleep)
 
Emotional symptoms of chronic stress can include:
  •  Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Panic Attacks
  • Sadness
  • Low self-esteem
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Avoidant behaviors
  • Problems with memory or concentration
 
 
 

Benefits of Implementing Relaxation & Stress Reduction Techniques into Everyday Life

Chronic stress can wreak havoc on our brains and bodies, which is why it’s so important to take an active approach in implementing healthy stress relieving techniques and activities into our daily routines. 

According to the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, benefits of regulating stress levels through proactive stress management include:

  • Better sleep
  •  Lower muscle tension
  • Weight management benefits
  • Improved mood
  • Better interpersonal relationships
 Regulating stress levels can also play a huge role in preventing and managing anxiety.
 
As stated on The University of North Carolina of Chapel Hill’s Campus Health website, 
“Fortunately, there is much that can be done to keep stress and anxiety at a manageable level. Keeping a healthy ‘baseline’ is a cornerstone to managing stress and anxiety. Consistent sleep, regular exercise, good nutrition, healthy relationships and regular periods of relaxation and fun are vital components as well.” 
 
 

 

Meditation & Breathing Exercises

Meditation is the practice of training your mind to focus and redirect your thoughts and attention in order to achieve a calm, relaxed and emotionally stable state. Scientific research boasts many benefits of meditation, including stress reduction, lessened anxiety levels, increased emotional wellbeing, self-awareness, increasing attention span, improvement in sleep, decreased blood pressure and more. 

Meditation is also one of the most accessible forms of relaxation, since it can be done anytime, from anywhere. 

Youtube or apps such as Calm or Headspace are great go-tos for guided meditations. Here’s a favorite five-minute meditation exercise from Youtube. 

Breathing exercises, also known as “deep breathing,” have a multitude of health benefits, including promoting relaxation, decreasing stress and helping with depression and anxiety. 

Verywell Mind explains how breathing helps us to function more optimally: 

“Slow breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, also called the ‘rest and digest’ system. Its job is to conserve energy to be used for bodily processes such as digestion and urination. Deep breathing also activates the vagus nerve, which is like the boss of the parasympathetic nervous system, overseeing things like mood, digestion, and heart rate. It will also send more oxygen to your brain and other organs.”

For more information on the science behind breathing exercises—and easy breathing exercises you can do at home—check out this article.

The Valera Health app—available in the Apple App Store and on Google Play—also contains plenty of great mental health content written by mental health experts to help you live your best life. 

 

 
Going Green

Spending time outside in nature is linked to both cognitive benefits and improvements in mood, mental health and emotional wellbeing—regardless of how much time is spent in the great outdoors. 
 

A 2019 review by University of Chicago psychologist Marc Berman, PhD, and his student Kathryn Schertz, revealed that green spaces near schools promote cognitive development in children and green views near children’s homes promote self-control behaviors. Similar results occurred when they studied adults assigned to public housing units with more green spaces nearby vs. those without. Those with more green spaces nearby reportedly showed better attentional functioningOther experiments have shown that being exposed to nature improves working memory, cognitive flexibility and attentional control.

No worries if you don’t have a forest in your backyard—urban parks, trees and other greenery filled spaces have similar benefits. Meaning that a midday stroll around your neighborhood or a nearby park can be equally as mood boosting as spending time in a nature reserve. 

Valera Health provides telemental healthcare services including therapy and psychiatry for those ages 6+, as well as in-app mental healthcare content created by our team of mental health experts (available for all Valera Health patients). Our mental health services are comprehensive, inclusive and tailored for you. We accept a large network of insurances as well as Medicare/Medicaid. To learn more, schedule your free consultation with a dedicated Health Connector or visit valerahealth.com.

 

Why Therapeutic Self-Care Practices Can Lead To Long-Term Wellbeing

Contrary to popular belief, self-care is about so much more than “treating yourself” and while “self” is in the title, it isn’t selfish.

After all, “Self-care is neither optional or glamorous. Self-care is an ethical obligation, for one cannot serve others from an empty vessel,” says Deborah Horowitz, Therapist Training Manager at Valera Health. 

That’s where therapeutic self-care comes in. 

What is Therapeutic Self-Care?

Therapeutic self-care is an approach to self-care rooted in overall wellbeing. This can include areas such as physical self-care, social self-care, mental self-care, emotional self-care and spiritual self-care, environmental self-care and financial self-care.

Vilma Vendrell, LCSW, MPA and Clinical Supervisor at Valera Health, defines self-care as “…the process of taking care of oneself with behaviors that promote health and active management of illness when it occurs.”

When it comes to our mental health, engaging in self-care activities can help increase distress tolerance, increase concentration, help manage stress, reduce risk of illness and improve our overall quality of life

“Self-care should not be a reactive plan but rather one that is incorporated in everyday life to help promote an overall healthy lifestyle,” advises Vendrell. “Self-care is important in maintaining healthy relationships with yourself and with others.”

Self-care also includes the management of mental illnesses as well as management of anxiety and depression symptoms. Self-care doesn’t have to be done alone, and can include self-care interventions by health providers through things like medication management, therapy and community support, which Valera Health offers through its providers and various group therapy programs.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), supporting self-care interventions has the potential to:

  • Strengthen national institutions to maximize efficient use of domestic resources for health
  • Create health sector innovations, including by catalyzing digital and health approaches
  • Improve access to medicines and interventions through optimal interfacing between health systems and sites of health care delivery

Ways to Practice Therapeutic Self-Care

1. Schedule Some “Me” Time

It’s important to take time out of each day to turn the focus inward and reconnect with yourself. 

Here are a few ideas on how to do this:

  • Enjoy a morning cup of coffee (or tea) distraction-free before you start work, or before your babies (or fur babies) wake up. Rather than chugging your morning caffeine supply, drink it slowly, taking time to enjoy each sip. 
  • Start a gratitude or open-ended journal and take a few minutes each day to write down how you’re feeling.
  • Block off a half-hour to an hour of time to watch your favorite show.
 
 
 2. Get Moving

Moving around doesn’t necessarily have to be laborious or require an intense sweat. Set timers and other reminders to get up and move to another part of the house besides the bathroom.  Walk to the mailbox, around the block, do a few jumping jacks, or any other favorite physical activity. 


3. Redefine Productivity

When it comes to work and productivity, it’s important to recognize your boundaries and enforce them. Focus on trying to separate work and home, even if you work from home. Have visual reminders for yourself and others that you are working and will address the home stuff after work. Change your workspace to make it homey but different from your home decor.  Change work spaces from time to time, if possible (such as working in a coffee shop instead of at home for the day).
 
 
4. Be Your Own Biggest Advocate
 
Your physical and emotional wellbeing should always come first. So, if you need time to take care of these needs, DO IT. This might look like skipping going out for the night if you aren’t feeling well, or speaking to your supervisor at work about your needs and limitations. While work is important, it’s not everything, and it can be easy to forget to enjoy life at home as well. 
 
 

Final Thoughts

Self-care can take many forms and finding the right self-care routine can look different from person to person. While developing a solid self-care routine can sometimes feel overwhelming, it is so worth it in the end. When you choose to take care of yourself, you make the conscious decision to develop healthy skills that can lead to long-term benefits.

If you’re having trouble coming up with and practicing a self-care routine, therapists and other healthcare providers can be a great resource. Valera Health offers many different affordable telemental health programs led by mental healthcare specialists. Request a free consultation with one of our health connectors to learn more, or visit valerahealth.com.