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Mental Health Month brings awareness to the key role of mental health in overall wellness

Need mental health resources? Lipscomb University can help.

Kim Chaudoin  | 

Chris Gonzalez with client in therapy session.

The COVID-19 pandemic that has taken a prominent place in the world in 2020 has resulted in an increased focus on mental health and the toll the virus is having on it.

As May is Mental Health Month, Lipscomb Now is sharing information about mental health and resources that are available to the Lipscomb community as well as tips for self-care. Chris Gonzalez, assistant professor and director of Lipscomb’s Marriage and Family Therapy Program, recently shared insights and information about mental health and the resource that is available through the Lipscomb Family Therapy Center. 

Lipscomb Now: Why is it important for individuals to be aware of their mental health as well as the issues that can have a negative impact on mental health?
Chris Gonzalez: Strong mental health is essential to human functioning and flourishing. Neglect it too long and it is hard to manage thoughts, feelings, behaviors and relationships. Mental health is the operating system that allows everything else to function. If that "system" crashes, everything else is at risk. 

Chris Gonzalez

Chris Gonzalez

LN: Many of us may not have diagnosed mental health challenges - but mental health issues come in a variety of "shapes and sizes" so to speak, correct?
CG: Mental health is not a dichotomous reality - either you're mental healthy or mentally ill. Everyone lands somewhere on the mental health spectrum ranging from very healthy to very unhealthy. If you think about it like weight, it can help make sense of it. People are not just underweight, at ideal weight, or overweight. That is not nuanced enough. Being five pounds over weight does not pose the same health threat that being 100 pounds overweight does. As someone who is trying to get down to a healthier weight, I find it an everyday effort to be healthy in my weight. The same is true with mental health. Consistently (not perfect) good habits increase the chances of good mental health. 

Also, mental health challenges are so varied, just like physical health challenges. Depression is different from anxiety. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is very different from phobias. Sleep Disorders, eating disorders, sexual dysfunctions and personality disorders are very different.

LN: What has led to the pre-pandemic increase our country has seen over the last few years in the suicide and addiction rates?
CG:
This is a topic that is up for debate. Many people point to social media corresponding with increases in suicide and addiction. Others point to parenting failures with parents being too close (helicopter) or too distant (free range) and perhaps parents being afraid of their children. Some say that financial issues are the cause. Some point to the constant decline in funding for mental services and prevention. Like most problems, there is almost certainly not a single variable that anyone could point to. It is always a confluence. 

LN: Knowing there are many triggers that lead to unhealthy mental health, the pandemic we find ourselves in has a number of factors that are impacting many people. What are these factors and what makes this time particularly challenging?
CG:
Isolation is powerful. Having a powerful form like a government enforce isolation can feel suffocating for some people, especially people who live alone. Uncertainty tends to increase stress. For people who already feel considerable stress, the collective uncertainty of the pandemic makes anxiety more likely. Some triggers are specific events, but some triggers are an amount of events without any specific one being "the trigger." 

LN: Are college students in a particularly vulnerable demographic?
CG:
College students are in a unique life stage wherein they are ready for independence, but have little to no experience with it. Eating habits, sleeping habits, exercise habits, spiritual habits are all theirs to control - or not control. There are so many forces pulling college students toward unhealth - often in the name of freedom. For example, unlimited ice cream in the cafeteria in an all-you-can-eat style environment is extremely tempting for many students. Having many onramps and opportunities for poor sleep, relationship drama (in person and online), with endless distractions lined up on TikTok, etc. - mental health often erodes when these things are persistent and consuming. 

LN: What tips or suggestions do you have for us to care for our mental health at any time and particularly while we are in the midst of this pandemic?
CG: 
1. Eat healthy. 
2. Sleep 8 hours straight if possible. 
3. Exercise daily, even if it is walking for 15 minutes. It activates healing agents in the body. 
4. Breathe - 10 times slowly inhaling and exhaling. 
5. Interpret thoughts and feelings as information, not immutable truth. 
6. Be boundaried with social media, technology, and intake of news. 
7. Creatively express gratitude for one thing each day. If it is regarding a person, tell that person. 
8. Be social to your level of social needs. Even video calls count as being social. 
9. Forgive. 
10. Prayer and meditation have demonstrated positive mental health outcomes. 

LN: Many of us are in close proximity to family members and loved ones as we are isolating in our homes these days. What are symptoms that we need to look for in others that may indicate they need mental health care?
CG:
If someone is sluggish or lethargic, sleeping too much or too little, eating too much or too little, and perhaps overly agitated or gets upset more rapidly than usual, that person might be struggling with some strain on their mental health. If someone is no longer interested in doing things they usually love doing, that could be a sign of depression. 

LN: Tell us about the Lipscomb Family Therapy Center. 
CG:
For anyone who lives in Tennessee, the Lipscomb Family Therapy Center is conducting in-person and online therapy sessions - currently at no charge (will resume with low fees some time during the summer). Consider doing a one-session check in for anxiety of depression. Couples could do a one session couple check up just to see how they are doing with each other given such challenging times. 

The mission of  the Lipscomb Family Therapy Center (LFTC) is to serve the mental health and relationship care needs of individuals, couples, and families in the Nashville community. LFTC provides a comfortable and confidential therapy setting to discuss issues you may be struggling with. The center’s goal is to provide private and effective therapy services that help clients overcome a wide range of personal and relational issues. For more information visit www.lipscomb.edu/about/offices-and-services/lipscomb-family-therapy-center. To schedule an appointment call 615.966.5300.