By Maracela Talamantes and Ella Jocher
Maracela Talamantes is a Marketing and Communications Assistant at Greater Portland Health, and Ella Jocher is a Human Resources and Marketing Intern.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been strenuous for all of us. For over a year now, many of us have been dealing with some level of uncertainty as a result of the public health emergency—and living in a constant state of apprehension can easily take a toll on one’s mental health. According to research from the Copenhagen Research Centre for Mental Health, the general public is experiencing higher levels of anxiety, depression, and psychological distress because of COVID-19 (2020). A Harvard Business Review study has shown major trends of worsening mental health for individuals across the world, with 85% reporting a general decline of well-being (Campbell & Gavett, 2021). Increased work demands, trouble meeting basic needs, isolation, home-life struggles, lack of support from leaders, and job concerns can all be attributed to these feelings of distress.
COVID-19 patients can also experience high levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms and higher levels of depressive symptoms, especially among those who were in critical condition during their illness or those who lost loved ones to the virus (Vindegaard & Benros, 2020). Healthcare workers who provide direct care to COVID patients are also at-risk for developing post-traumatic stress symptoms. Due to the nature of their jobs, these individuals are frequently exposed to the virus and must watch their patients suffer on a regular basis. Dealing with crises becomes a regular part of their routine, the results of which can be detrimental to one’s mental well-being (University of Michigan Department of Psychiatry, 2020).
Many individuals have also experienced disruptions and changes in their work environments, whether they work remotely or in-person. While in the same survey 20% of people reported improved workplace well-being, 89% of people reported declining workplace well-being (Campbell & Gavett, 2021). There are a number of reasons for these negative responses, including: increased job demands, prevalence of new technology, significant employment changes, growing disengagement, and losing connections with coworkers.
Some common symptoms of increased stress can include: changes in appetite, energy, and interests, difficulty sleeping, difficulty concentrating, worsening of chronic health problems, worsening of mental health conditions, increased substance use, and physical symptoms such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes (CDC, 2021). If you or someone you know is experiencing stress, anxiety, or depression, it’s important to remember that these feelings are completely natural—and you’re not alone.
Greater Portland Health’s social work supervisors Jennie Yamartino and Molly Fox have been working with patients dealing with similar issues during the pandemic, and they say that this uncertain time has impacted everyone differently.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about your background as a behavioral health provider? Why is this line of work important to you?
A: Jennie Yamartino - “I decided to get my MSW in 2012 after working as a dropout prevention counselor in schools in Manhattan and the Bronx. After grad school, I moved to California, where I worked for 4 years in a juvenile mental health court in Oakland. I value this work because I believe that everyone deserves to speak their truth and be heard with an open heart, and that we are all responsible for each other’s healing.”
A: Molly Fox - “I’ve worked in a variety of non-profit settings as a mental health provider and feel strongly about working in a setting that serves everyone regardless of their ability to pay while providing holistic services within one organization. This work is important to me because I believe that access to the intersection of mind/body health should be a human right. So, social justice is at the root of my passion for providing mental health services within a community clinic.”
Q: Mental health has been a frequent topic of conversation over the past year, mainly in relation to the pandemic. From your experience working with patients, what would you say are some of the most prevalent challenges that people are facing right now?
A: Jennie Yamartino - “The pandemic has impacted young people in unique ways – particularly as it relates to school. Routine is important for all our mental health, but particularly for kids. Many of them struggle to engage in online learning, their sleep patterns are disrupted, they are isolated and lonely. The pandemic has rocked many kids’ very sense of who they are. On the flip side, the pandemic has also highlighted their grit, their humor, and their undeniable calling to make the world a more creative, inclusive place.”
A: Molly Fox - “People are facing tremendous changes in their daily routines, and struggling with isolation. The pandemic has caused so many services to shut down or change what they offer, that individuals are having a much harder time accessing groups, whether that be hobby groups, spiritual/religious services or social service groups like group therapy. Individuals are also thinking more about mortality for themselves and their families and what makes sense for them to do with their time.”
Q: What advice would you give to a person who is seeking care for their mental health, or someone who is considering it?
A: Jennie Yamartino - “For someone seeking mental health care or considering it – I say bravo! You are taking a courageous, compassionate step for yourself. It can at times feel like a scary journey, but you are not alone in it, and you’re worth it.”
A: Molly Fox - “Try it out to have the experience of sitting with someone who is trained to listen to you in different ways and reflect back insight that you may have been covering up by life stressors and or/ mental health struggles or trauma. Having someone to facilitate a safe enough space to explore what’s working and what’s not, can open up your ability to see how you can engage in life and relationships differently. Through the therapeutic relationship, one can reflect, process and create a more meaningful existence that aligns with ones values. Take a chance and try it out!”
Practicing mindful and intentional self-care is important, now more than ever. GPH’s grants and marketing coordinator, Maty Swartz, says that the pandemic has brought about many life-lessons—the most significant being learning how to manage stress through self-care.
“I personally struggle with anxiety,” Swartz says. “So, the pandemic has been particularly challenging for me. Being isolated from others for so long gave me a lot of time to reflect. Over the past year, the biggest hurdle has been learning how to be comfortable in my own head. Self-care was a big part of that, but I had to do a lot of work to figure out what worked for me. Self-care is different for everyone, but the key is to be mindful of your current needs and see to it that they’re being met. Sometimes, that’s something simple, like taking a walk or doing yoga. It can also be far more complex than that, like learning how to ask for help when you need it, or speaking your mind even when it’s uncomfortable. Putting your needs first takes a lot of courage, but that feeling of being your own advocate is so empowering, and it has absolutely improved my quality of life.”
There are a number of organizations and businesses in Southern Maine that can help individuals put self-care into practice. From wellness to gardening, there are a plethora of options to choose from:
- SeaChange Yoga provides “trauma-informed yoga and meditation to those who have experienced trauma, are under-served and marginalized, and in need of the emotional regulation and increased physical and mental health that trauma informed yoga and meditation practice provides.” They offer virtual yoga classes that are also posted to their website for use at any time.
- Greener Postures Yoga offers outdoor yoga at Bug Light in South Portland on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 9:30am-10:30am throughout the summer beginning June 9th. They also offer in studio and virtual/on-demand classes.
- Ashley Flowers hosts outdoor yoga classes on Wednesday evenings in Portland from 5:30pm-6:30pm. She also offers goat yoga classes at Smiling Hill Farm on Friday evenings from 5:30pm-7pm and virtual yoga classes at various times throughout the week.
- Gardening is great for mental health. The Longfellow Garden Club is a welcoming gardening group for all experience levels. The club maintains the Longfellow Garden at the Wadsworth-Longfellow House in Portland from April to October, as well as a garden at the Longfellow Arboretum at Payson Park in Portland. The club offers several activities and a friendly community.
- The Maine Outdoor Adventure Club hosts several outdoor excursions for members at the price of $25 per year. The club’s events range from walking to whitewater rafting and rock climbing.
- Portland Trails is a 70+ mile trail network in Greater Portland. Check out your local trails for a free way to support your mental health!
- The Youth Mental Health Project is a nonprofit organization on a mission “to educate, empower, and support families and communities to better understand and care for the mental health of our youth.” They offer email lists and parent support resources.
American Medical Association. (2021, March 29). Managing mental health during COVID-19. American Medical Association. https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/managing-mental-health-during-covid-19.
Campbell, M., & Gavett, G. (2021, February 10). What Covid-19 Has Done to Our Well-Being, in 12 Charts. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2021/02/what-covid-19-has-done-to-our-well-being-in-12-charts.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021, January 22). Mental Health and Coping During COVID-19. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/managing-stress-anxiety.html.
Posttraumatic Stress Disorder during COVID-19: Psychiatry: Michigan Medicine. U Mich Department of Psychiatry. (2020, May 4). https://medicine.umich.edu/dept/psychiatry/michigan-psychiatry-resources-covid-19/specific-mental-health-conditions/posttraumatic-stress-disorder-during-covid-19.
Vindegaard, N., & Benros, M. E. (2020). COVID-19 pandemic and mental health consequences: Systematic review of the current evidence. Brain, Behavior, and Immunity, 89, 531–542. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bbi.2020.05.048