Dr. Michelle Álvarez
Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Asheville
MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH
Dr. Michelle Álvarez offers insight, information and encouragement.
Q: As a mental health professional, what would you like everyone to be more aware of when it comes to mental wellness?
A: I think it’s important to remember a few things… and the first is that it does not require a “diagnosis” in order to obtain care for your mental health. It is integral to everyone’s well-being and is as important as sleep and food… our physical, spiritual, and emotional needs deserve equal respect and support. And for anyone with a history of trauma or substance use issues, times like we are experiencing right now can be particularly challenging.
Q: During the COVID-19 pandemic, how should someone go about finding a mental health provider?
A: Since the most important part of a therapeutic relationship is having a good rapport, a good sense of understanding and trust between yourself and your therapist, my advice wouldn’t be much different now. I’d say, go to a therapist’s website and get a sense of who they are and how they work, make sure it’s someone who is conscientious of your health and safety (are they willing to meet online, for example, if that’s your comfort level), check reviews online, make sure there isn’t a language barrier, and find someone who offers a first time consolation at no charge. Personally, I find those first conversations extremely valuable!
Q: How can we all take better care of ourselves during this time of increased stress and change?
A: One thing, is to look for ways to “lighten up”… these are heavy times. For myself, before the pandemic, I regularly spent my downtime reading and listening to serious works regarding social and racial justice – like My Grandmother’s Hands or White Fragility. A few weeks into my new reality – now home with two children in virtual elementary school, our family’s financial losses combined with increasing technology costs in order to see clients online – I felt the need to bring in more lightheartedness… switch to reading fiction, enjoy more Netflix and games. Our nervous system stays more activated during times like this, so do what you can to give it a break – stretch, breathe deeply, meditate, go for a walk.
Q: The effects of Coronavirus have been most devastating in communities of color. The need for good mental health care is higher than ever, at a time fewer and fewer can afford it. How can people help?
A: This pandemic is hurting black, hispanic and folks of other minority groups, disproportionately high – physically, emotionally and economically. While I’ve always offered discounted fees as I’m able, COVID-19 inspired me to kick off a scholarship fund. Donations will expand the availability of quality mental health care to people who otherwise couldn’t afford it. And in return, to anyone who gives, I’m offering free access to my online yoga class. Just like everyone else, therapists can’t work for free… so this is a way for someone to share her resources and help me help. I’d encourage everyone, if you want to DO something, and aren’t sure how, give what you’re able to a local professional, or an organization, who is already doing the work. It’s extremely impactful, and an anti-racist way to make a difference in your community .
Dr. Álvarez suggests using Charity Navigator and Share My Check to find reputable organizations. If you’d like to give to a national mental healthcare focused organization, consider A Therapist Like Me.
With Mother’s Day in mind, Dr. Álvarez invites Moms to:
- Let go of any “Mom guilt” – Your alone time is more essential than ever, while keeping the kids out of the potato chip bag… not so much.
- Designate a weekly “Mothers Day” and allow for extra pampering.
- Let go of any sense of over responsiblity – None of us caused this pandemic and we’ve never been through anything like this before, so there’s no reason to think we should have all the answers.
- Ask your kids for input on how they feel things are going at home.
- Develop routines for your kids where you can, while also being flexible (Example – We are all going to get up and change out of our pjs on weekdays… unless we decide to make it a pajama day!)
- Apply the compassion you offer your Mom-friends to yourself and know that as long as you are fine, your kids will be fine!