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 Vilma Vendrell, Clinical Supervisor at Valera Health. “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.  

How to Talk to Your Kids About School Shootings

Talking to your kids about school shootings is not an easy thing to do, and it can be tempting to avoid the subject altogether. However, according to mental health experts, it’s extremely important to have these difficult conversations with your children in order to help them process these tragic events and rebuild a sense of safety.

Here are some key points from our clinical team of mental health experts to keep in mind when talking to your children about school shootings.

age-differences

Developmentally Appropriate Conversations

 A good place to start the conversation about a school shooting is to determine your child’s awareness and understanding of the event and gauge their emotional reaction. Listening to their explanation of events allows us the opportunity to gently correct any misinformation about what happened. While encouraging them to voice their thoughts and feelings, provides validation and leaves the door open for future conversations.

Information parents provide about school shootings should be tailored to a child’s developmental needs. We recommend providing Children in early elementary school with simple and truthful explanations about events which focus on a reassurance of safety.
Older elementary aged children and middle schoolers may focus more on how these events challenge the reality of safety in their everyday lives. It may be helpful to reassure children of this age group by exploring specific ways in which safety is maintained in their environments. Older middle schoolers and high schoolers may focus on exploring their beliefs about why violence like this occurs and ways in which things can be changed to decrease it. These children should be encouraged and reminded of ways in which they can contribute to safety in their environments.

Some children may find expressing their thoughts and feelings verbally more difficult. In this case encouraging expression and communication through play (drawing/coloring, painting, writing, colors, objects, books, etc.) may be more helpful than a direct conversation.

reassurance-of-safety-child-and-mother

Reassurance of Safety

 Whether far or near, school shootings can lead to feelings of anxiety and fear about safety. Children of all ages can be provided significant reassurance by the adults in their lives about the safety of their homes, schools, and communities. Reminders of the ways in which safety is maintained in these environments such as, locking doors, practicing emergency drills, and being able to identify trusted adults, may be helpful. In situations like these children need to be reminded that the adults around them are there for them and are doing everything they can to keep them safe.

exposure-to-news-teen-leaning

Exposure to News

 It is important to monitor and limit children’s exposure to news media coverage of school shootings. Though children may seek out information and want to “keep up to date,” repeated

exposure to footage and details of school shootings can heighten anxiety. This also applies to social media platforms children have access to. For older children, the goal is not to shield them from awareness of these events, but to reduce stress by providing reliable information and limiting retriggering anxiety and fear.

 

Maintain a Normal Routine

 Maintaining daily routines can provide continued stability and safety for children when things seem out of control. Being able to rely on as much predictability in their lives as possible can mediate the after effects of community violence like school shootings.

taking-care-of-self

Taking Care of Yourself

 As parents/guardians, it’s easy to focus only on the needs of our children. But, remember it is important to prioritize your own needs so that you can be there for them. This may be a good time to utilize supportive resources such as spouses, friends, family, religious communities, cultural communities, and mental health services.

 

Be Mindful

 Most children experience less and less anxiety and fear about a school shooting event with time. For children directly involved or living in the communities where a school shooting has occurred this will be a longer process. Pay attention to changes in children’s behavior, such as reduced or increased appetite, sleep disturbance, avoidance of situations, irritability, “acting out,” etc. as these can be an indication of increased emotional distress. For children and families that have experienced previous trauma, events like school shootings can also have a longer lasting emotional effect. Mental health services may be needed for children and families to whom these situations apply.

 

Final Thoughts & Additional Resources

 If you or your children need additional support processing and healing from exposure to difficult events like school shootings, you are not alone.

We encourage you to explore the following resources for additional support if needed:

  • SAMHSA National Helpline 1-800-662-4357, free, confidential, 24/7, 365-days-per-year, treatment and referral information service (in English and Spanish)
  • SAMHSA National Disaster Distress Helpline 1-800-985-5990, 24/7 connection to the nearest crisis counseling center for those who have directly experienced a traumatic event or disaster, support for over 100 languages including ASL (when video calling used)

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 request a consultation.

5 Types of Bipolar Disorder: Why the Distinction Matters

You have probably heard of the term “bipolar disorder.” Perhaps you know someone who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder, or you think you may experience symptoms of bipolar disorder yourself. Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that was previously referred to as “manic depressive disorder.”

Types and Prevalence of Bipolar Disorder

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, fifth edition (DSM-5) has classified five types of bipolar disorder, and 2.8% of adults in the United States have been diagnosed with some type of bipolar disorder. The five types of bipolar disorders listed in the DSM-5 are:

  • Bipolar I
  • Bipolar II
  • Cyclothymic disorder
  • Bipolar disorder “other specified”
  • Bipolar disorder “unspecified”

It is important to note that the DSM-5 lists bipolar disorder other specified and bipolar disorder unspecified as two separate diagnoses. However, both conditions represent a diagnosis of bipolar disorder when a person does not meet the criteria for bipolar I, bipolar II, or cyclothymic disorder. You can learn more information about the differences between bipolar I and bipolar II here.

Differences and Commonalities

What makes bipolar disorder distinct from other mental health disorders is its unique symptoms, particularly changes in energy levels, activity levels, and mood. The mood changes can range significantly from periods of intense energy to periods of very low mood. Periods of high energy are referred to as “manic episodes,” and periods of low mood are referred to as “depressive episodes.” Each form of bipolar disorder encompasses these symptoms to some degree; however, distinct differences exist.

Symptoms of mania include:

  • Lessened need for sleep.
  • Feelings of high energy, jumpiness, and irritability.
  • Hyperverbal (i.e., talking very rapidly).
  • Racing thoughts.
  • Trying to do many things at one time.
  • Feelings of grandiosity (i.e., powerful, important).
  • Risky behaviors (e.g., eating too much, using substances excessively, and risky driving).
  • Hallucinations and delusions (e.g, seeing things that don’t exist or believing a reality that doesn’t exist).

Symptoms of hypomania are less severe than mania or manic episodes. They do not include psychosis (e.g., hallucinations and delusions), but they do include:

  • Talkativeness.
  • Lessened need for sleep.
  • Racing thoughts.
  • Increase in goal-directed behaviors.
  • An exaggerated sense of self-esteem.

Symptoms of depression or low mood include:

  • Feelings of hopelessness, sadness, and low mood.
  • Low energy.
  • Weight gain and increased appetite.
  • Slowing down of thoughts.
  • Little interest in once pleasurable activities.
  • Sleep problems (e.g., oversleeping and not sleeping enough).

Distinctions Among the Types of Bipolar Disorders

Bipolar I symptoms include:

  • Manic episodes that last for at least a week or require hospitalization due to the severity of symptoms.
  • Depressive episodes lasting at least two weeks.

Bipolar II symptoms include:

  • Presence of both hypomanic and depressive episodes, but not manic episodes.

Cyclothymic symptoms include:

  • Presence of hypomanic and depressive symptoms lasting at least two years.
  • Symptoms present do not meet the criteria for hypomania and depressive episodes.

Bipolar disorder “other specific” and “unspecified” are used when the individual:

  • Doesn’t meet the criteria for bipolar I, bipolar II, or cyclothymic disorder.
  • Experiences periods of clinically substantial mood disruption and mood elevation.

Treatment Options

Understanding the differences among the types of bipolar diagnosis can help you and your doctor develop an effective treatment plan based on your symptoms and needs. Treatment is tailored to your goals and symptoms. It’s important to remember that everyone responds to treatment differently, so one method may work for one person but not another.

Common treatment options include:

  • Medication such as anti-psychotics, anti-depressants, and mood stabilizers.
  • Talk therapy.
  • Education.
  • Complementary therapies such as meditation, prayer, and exercise.

Conclusion

Bipolar disorder is treatable. If you experience symptoms of bipolar disorder, you are not alone. If you believe you may be experiencing bipolar disorder, talk to your primary care physician and discuss whether telehealth or in-person treatment is best for you. If you have thoughts of suicide, call the national suicide crisis number at 800-273-8255. If you are considering acting on your thoughts, please call 911 or go to your local emergency department to get the support you may need. Valera Health can help you on your personal journey to wellness. We offer psychiatric and therapeutic services through telemedicine for anxiety, depression, ADHD, and bipolar disorder.

Sources:

  1. https://www.nami.org/About-Mental-Illness/Mental-Health-Conditions/Bipolar-Disorder
  2. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/bipolar-disorder/
  3. https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/aa167947

5 Ways You Can Support Someone Who is Experiencing Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is a diagnosable mental health disorder that affects many people. In fact, bipolar disorder has been diagnosed in more than 2 million adults in the United States, and researchers believe the number of Americans who have bipolar disorder is even higher. However, there are things we can do to help support those who experience bipolar disorder.

What is Bipolar Disorder?

Bipolar disorder is a mental health disorder characterized by intense mood changes, thought processes, and behaviors. The changes in mood can be intense and severe and include patterns of mania and patterns of depression. The 5 types of bipolar disorder are bipolar I, bipolar II, cyclothymic disorder, bipolar disorder “unspecified” and bipolar disorder “otherwise specified”. While there are differences among the types of bipolar disorder, they all encompass symptoms of both mania and depression.

Symptoms of mania include:

  • Racing thoughts.
  • Fast talking.
  • Decreased need for sleep.
  • Thinking and trying to do many things at one time.
  • Excessive behaviors such as eating, sex, and drug and alcohol use.
  • Risky behaviors such as fast driving and overspending.
  • Feeling wired or jumpy.
  • Thoughts of grandiosity, such as thoughts about being the leader of a country and exaggerating your talents and achievements.
  • Psychosis such as hallucinations (seeing things that don’t exist) and delusions (thinking you can read other people’s minds).

Symptoms of depression include:

  • Low energy and lack of motivation.
  • Increased sleep.
  • Increased appetite and weight gain.
  • Difficulty performing normal day-to-day tasks such as showering, doing dishes, and going to work.
  • Feeling hopeless.
  • Thoughts of death and suicide.

5 Things We Can Do to Show Support

1. Remind Yourself that the Behaviors are Symptoms of a Disorder, Not A Personality Trait

Bipolar disorder can impact a person’s behavior and, oftentimes, the behaviors can present negatively. For example, excessive spending, drug and alcohol use, and difficulty adhering to work and personal responsibilities can all be symptoms of bipolar disorder. While difficult to experience and accept at times, these behaviors are not character flaws but are symptoms of a person’s mental health disorder. Work on recognizing that these behaviors are symptoms of an illness and not reflective of a person’s personality or intentions.

2. Take Care of Yourself

If you love someone or care for someone who has a mental illness such as bipolar disorder, be sure to take care of your own physical, mental, and spiritual needs. Engage in pleasurable activities, take breaks throughout your day, eat well, and get adequate rest. This can also include attending support groups and seeking therapy for yourself. You’ve heard the adage about taking care of yourself so that you can support and care for others; this is certainly true when helping someone experiencing mental illness.

3. Make a Plan for Manic Episodes

When your loved one is in a healthy emotional place (not experiencing an episode of mania or depression), discuss the plan for a manic episode. This can look like creating a schedule, identifying healthy creative outlets for energy, and helping with finances and spending. You can start the conversation by asking the person “what would be helpful to you when you notice yourself experiencing symptoms of mania” or “what can I do to help you effectively manage your symptoms when you experience a manic episode?”.

4. Discuss Bipolar Disorder

Having a non-judgmental, listening ear can help your loved one feel supported and safe to discuss any symptoms. It may also help your loved one feel more comfortable asking for help or coming to you when symptoms of a manic or depressive episode begin to occur. It can be helpful to ask the person “How have you managed your symptoms of bipolar disorder so well?” or “What can I do to help you when you are experiencing symptoms?”.

5. Validate Your Loved One’s Thoughts and Emotions

Try to remember that your loved one experiences thoughts and emotions that feel real, even if they aren’t based on facts and reality. For example, disputing the thoughts of people with bipolar disorder and telling them to calm down when they are experiencing intense emotions can escalate symptoms. Instead, try to remain calm during these situations and recognize that their reality is true to them. A validating statement can look like “I see you are experiencing strong emotions right now and that’s okay” or “it makes sense why you think or feel that way”. This normalizes and validates their internal experience (thoughts and emotions).

Conclusion

If you believe you may be experiencing bipolar disorder, talk to your primary care physician and discuss whether telehealth or in-person treatment is best for you. If you have thoughts of suicide, call the national suicide crisis number at 800-273-8255. If you are considering acting on your thoughts, please call 911 or go to your local emergency department to get the support you may need. Medical and mental health professionals can help you manage these symptoms. Getting help can be as easy as contacting Valera Health. We provide psychiatric and mental health telemedicine services to help you pursue your personal journey toward wellness.

Sources:

  1. https://www.nami.org/Press-Media/Press-Releases/2005/Surveys-Reveal-Gap-in-Understanding-of-Bipolar-Dis
  2. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/bipolar-disorder/
  3. https://www.nami.org/personal-stories/living-with-someone-with-bipolar-disorder
  4. https://www.mind.org.uk/information-support/types-of-mental-health-problems/bipolar-disorder/for-friends-family/

7 Symptoms of ADHD and How to Get Help

Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects an estimated 6.1 million youth in the United States, which equates to roughly 9.4% of this population. Of those teens and children, 64% have another mental health disorder, with anxiety, depression, and behavior problems being the most prevalent.

ADHD also affects 4.4% of adults. Many adults who have ADHD don’t know they have it because it went undetected earlier in their lives. If you’re an adult who suspects they may have ADHD, try reviewing and determining whether your symptoms impacted you during childhood and early adulthood, and may have followed you into the present.

Knowing how to spot signs and symptoms of ADHD can help you determine whether you may need professional treatment for this mental health disorder.

Consider getting help today if you think you have any of the following seven symptoms of ADHD.

1. Difficulty Concentrating and Paying Attention

People with ADHD often have difficulty concentrating and paying attention, which is also a common symptom of anxiety. In fact, nearly 50% of adults and 30% of children with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder.

You may have ADHD if you experience these symptoms all the time. If you only experience these symptoms at times you’re feeling anxious, you may have an anxiety disorder.

2. Hyperactivity

Fidgeting, difficulty sitting still, and excessive movement are all symptoms of hyperactivity. These symptoms may occur when a person with ADHD is engaging in tasks they feel are not interesting enough to keep their focus. Many mental health professionals now help people with ADHD to harness their fidgeting and hyperactivity to increase focus and productivity.

3. Difficulty With Communication

ADHD can make it difficult for people with this condition to communicate with others. They may interrupt others without meaning to or miss important details of a conversation. They may also forget what they were going to say or swerve into another area. Struggling with word choice, zoning out during talks, and short conversations are other signs of ADHD that are associated with communication difficulties.

4. Difficulty Completing Tasks That Require Focus

People with ADHD may try to delay or avoid performing tasks that require them to stay focused, such as listening to lectures or doing homework. Their inability to sit still and concentrate can become stressful and overwhelming, which can cause them to leave certain tasks incomplete.

5. Difficulty Being Patient

People with ADHD may experience difficulty when forced to wait their turn, such as when standing in line, speaking, or sitting in traffic. Being patient can often be uncomfortable for people with ADHD. They may need help to practice patience. It is often difficult for people with ADHD to relax and be patient.

6. Daydreaming

Daydreaming tends to be more intense in people with ADHD given how the brain has difficulty transitioning from one task to another. People without ADHD can often easily stop daydreaming right away, while people with ADHD may have difficulty refocusing their attention.

7. Excessively Talking

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Excessive talking in ADHD occurs on behalf of hyperactivity and impulsivity and is often difficult to control. People with ADHD often do not realize they have taken over conversations and may also talk a lot because they have difficulty focusing on what others are saying.

Getting Help For ADHD

If you think a loved one may have ADHD, see your pediatrician or family doctor right away for an evaluation. Your doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist or another mental health professional who can properly diagnose and treat the condition. Treatments for ADHD can help your loved one effectively manage their symptoms.

Could You Have ADHD? Signs It’s Time To See a Doctor

Valera Health provides tele-mental health care in the form of therapy and psychiatry services for those who suffer from mental health disorders including ADHD, depression, and bipolar disorder. Request a consultation with us today and get started on your personal journey to improved mental wellness.

Sources:

  1. https://www.cdc.gov/NCBDDD/adhd/data.html
  2. https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/diagnosis.html
  3. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/attention-deficit-hyperactivity-disorder-adhd.shtml
  4. https://chadd.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/coexisting.pdf
  5. https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/other-related-conditions/adult-adhd

5 Reasons Why Inclusivity in Mental Health is So Important

Within society, you have probably heard the terms inclusivity and diversity used more frequently, and for very good reason. Respecting the culture, ethnicity, values, ability, and religious beliefs of different groups of people benefits everyone as individuals and as members of society. This is particularly true when it comes to your physical health, mental health, and wellness.

What Do Diversity and Inclusivity Mean?

Diversity and inclusivity reference the same concept: acceptance and respect of everyone, regardless of age, skin color, physical ability, sexual orientation, religion, and gender identification. However, the terms are distinctly different. Diversity refers to a group of people with a wide range of demographic, political, philosophical, religious, and ethnic differences.

Diversity can be thought of as the “what.” Inclusion can be thought of as the action or the “how.” Inclusion refers to the action steps taken to intentionally include people of different backgrounds, ethnicities, demographics, abilities, and religious beliefs. You can think of it as including people regardless of where they come from, their physical abilities, how they identify, and what they believe while respecting and accepting them as human beings.

Why Inclusivity in Mental Health Care Is So Important?

  1. They allow you access to essential healthcare services like therapy and medication by having therapists and doctors available from various backgrounds and demographics.
  2. They encourage effective problem-solving efforts. This can mean more effective and efficient services for you and an overall better therapeutic experience.
  3. They provide you with options. Having options can help you feel empowered to make your own decisions about your healthcare.
  4. They improve employee morale. Feeling respected, accepted, and included can increase motivation and improve productivity at work. This can, in turn, improve motivation and morale, which can translate into effective therapy and patient care for you.
  5. They facilitate increased trust in the therapy room. When you feel respected, heard, and valued by your therapist, you are more willing to open up and be honest. Having a positive rapport with your therapist can help you reach your therapeutic goals.

What Do Diversity and Inclusivity Look Like in Therapy?

Talking to a professional counselor, psychologist, or therapist can be one of the most rewarding experiences of your life. Your mind and body connection is an important part of your overall health. Incorporating diversity and inclusivity in therapy is important for effective therapy. Honoring diversity and inclusivity, as a therapist, can look as follows:

  • A willingness to learn about cultures, ethnicities, religions, and demographics that are different from their own.
  • Eliminating judgments, stereotypes, and bias through education and professional development.
  • Attending continued learning courses about inequality and social injustices that groups of people experience.

This can have a direct impact on your experience as a patient. If a therapist is nonjudgmental, doesn’t support stereotypes, and has professional education in diversity, you benefit. You may feel accepted, included, and feel more comfortable expressing yourself genuinely in therapy.

As a patient, it is of the utmost importance that you feel accepted and empowered along your therapeutic journey. Being able to choose your therapist based on your specific needs and background is important. 

How Can You Tell if You Have a Therapist who is Committed to Inclusive Care?

Having a therapist who is committed to providing inclusive care can be the key element for an effective and successful therapeutic experience. An inclusive therapist will:

  • Ask about your background, ethnicity, religious beliefs, and values that are important to you.
  • Build upon your strengths and appreciate your beliefs.
  • Engage in healthy verbal and non-verbal communication with you such as making eye contact and asking follow-up questions to clarify something you have said.
  • Show openness to receiving feedback from you to help improve communication and develop trust. They will ask you if there is anything they can do differently to make you feel more comfortable.
  • Inquire and respect your pronouns.

Conclusion

The experience of bias, racism, and prejudice can negatively impact your mental health. In addition, fear of  experiencing bias, prejudice, and being misunderstood is a barrier to getting mental healthcare for a lot of people . If you are experiencing symptoms of depression and anxiety or perhaps your are searching  for support along your personal journey, Valera Health can help. At Valera Health, we provide comprehensive tele-mental health care that includes therapy and psychiatry services that are focused on you and your unique needs.

Sources:

https://www.qcc.cuny.edu/diversity/definition.html
https://diversity.gwu.edu/diversity-and-inclusion-defined

Discrimination and Mental Illness: How Racism, Sexism, Homophobia, and Transphobia Affect Your Mental Health

Discrimination doesn’t always look the same, and there’s no textbook definition for how someone reacts to experiencing it. Racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia increase the risk of developing mental health disorders or making them worse while making it harder for people to get help.

When offering resources to members of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities and LGBTQ people, we need to understand that we can’t fix trauma associated with discrimination overnight. The problem is systemic, and providing safe resources also means doing the work to advocate for people experiencing discrimination.

What’s the Connection Between Racism and Mental Health?

Racism is designed to create inequalities based on beliefs and stereotypes about a whole group of people. But targeting a whole group impacts people on large and small scales. Racism causes trauma, and trauma increases a person’s likelihood of developing mental illness and struggling with mental health.

Trauma causes a stress response, which creates both physical and mental symptoms that can develop into long-term mental health conditions like anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and others. It also affects the way you look at yourself and experience the world around you.

Racism is twice as likely to harm someone’s mental health as their physical health. And yet, because of racism, BIPOC people often don’t get the care they need for their mental health.

We see it in Asian American populations where the “model minority” myth makes it harder to recognize the signs of mental illness. By creating an unrealistic and harmful standard for Asian American people—particularly Asian American youth—it becomes harder for them to get a diagnosis if they are under pressure to be smarter and more accomplished than other groups. The model minority myth creates an incorrect perception of Asian Americans’ mental health needs, even among mental health professionals, by placing higher expectations on people of these communities.

Black men are four times more likely to get a schizophrenia diagnosis than white men when they show symptoms of a mood disorder. Stereotypes that portray Black men as violent, for example, make it harder for them to get an accurate mental health diagnosis when a therapist or psychiatrist has a preconceived idea of who they are. Similarly, stereotypes about the “loud Black woman” portray Black women as hysterical, which can lead them to downplay their feelings, especially outside of a trusted group.

Racism creates chronic stress that leads to anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses that severely impact a person’s overall wellness. BIPOC people who have mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, ADHD, and others are often passed over or judged more harshly than white people with the same diagnoses. Institutionalized and internalized racism makes it more difficult for BIPOC people to get help and feel comfortable and worthy of seeking mental healthcare in the first place.

How Do Homophobia, Transphobia, and Gender Discrimination Impact Mental Health?

For a lot of people in the LGBTQ+ community, discovering their identities is a journey. Without support, they can develop internalized homophobia and transphobia that leads to anxiety, depression, and other mental health struggles.

While 4.5% of the United States population identifies as LGBTQ+, 39% of people within the community have experienced bullying because of their sexuality or gender identity, according to Mental Health America. As a result, LGBTQ+ people are also 2.5 times more likely to seek mental health services.

Bullying because of their sexuality and gender identity can contribute to abnormally high cortisol—or stress hormone—levels. Plus, when LGBTQ+ people don’t have support from family members, teachers, friends, and others close to them, it’s not easy to feel safe sharing who they are and asking questions about their identities.

Pressure to hide those identities contributes to poor mental health when they can’t express the person they truly are. That leads to fear, distrust, and consistent stress that, even if the person isn’t already at risk of mental illness, can quickly lead to problems with mental health.

Beyond bullying, rules and regulations prevent LGBTQ+ people from getting their basic needs met on a larger scale. For example, there are few doctors and clinicians trained to understand the unique needs of people in the LGBTQ+ community, which leads to people not getting proper care, facing medical discrimination, or avoiding seeking care altogether out of fear.

Official policies and laws prevent many LGBTQ+ people from expressing their identities or having those identities acknowledged by others. While laws discriminating against LGBTQ+ people aren’t new, the first few months of 2021 have seen 14 states propose anti-LGBTQ+ bills. These types of laws make it possible for workplaces, schools, and other facilities to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people based on their identities. Many places within and outside the United States already have laws that do not allow nonbinary and transgender people to be addressed by their correct pronouns or names. The laws also prevent people of certain genders from participating in activities like school sports based on whether their gender matches their assigned sex at birth.

It’s important to understand what it means to have multiple marginalizations and intersectional identities, too. Black and Brown trans people are at a much higher risk of violence than white trans people, adding another layer both to their identity and to mental health risk factors. When people target you based on multiple facets of who you are, it only increases the mental health impact.

What Can We Do About It?

Racism, sexism, homophobia, and transphobia all make healthcare less accessible to those who need it. It also raises questions of who understands every part of who you are.

We must actively fight racism, gender discrimination, homophobia, and transphobia. We can’t only be non-racist or passively view these things as wrong without being complicit in letting them continue. We must do more than acknowledge our privilege and biases and instead use that privilege to make more resources available to others while breaking down our biases and those of others.

Therapy goes hand in hand with social justice. Valera Health knows that, and we incorporate that into our practice to allow for a personal journey with each person. We hold space for people in all communities as we continue to educate ourselves and others to make it easier for BIPOC, LGBTQ+, and other marginalized communities to get the mental health services they need.