July is BIPOC (Black, indigenous, people of color) Mental Health awareness month. BIPOC women can have different or additional mental health needs as a result of their unique experiences in the world. For specific mental health resources for BIPOC folks, scroll to the bottom of this post.
Women experience discrimination, safety issues, oppression, and other challenges that impact their mental health. Black, Indigenous, and Women of Color experience the challenges of sexism coupled with racism, discrimination, and more.
Happy Pride Month Ya'll, Amanda here.
My therapist once defined shame to me in a way that I will never forget. She said, “Guilt is the feeling that ‘I did something wrong.’ Shame is the feeling that ‘I am something wrong.’” This distinction was the first time I was able to understand and label this feeling that I had carried with me for so long. I wondered, if I was walking around bearing the heaviness of “I am something wrong” without even realizing it, how many others were?
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and Virago Wellness is taking the opportunity to let women know why it’s so important to prioritize mental health.
Mental health is relevant to everyone even if you’ve never needed therapy or medication. In the same way that everyone has to pay attention to physical health or dental hygiene, we need to take care of ourselves emotionally.
Women, in particular, are affected by mental health issues in different ways from men.
Women experience violence and therefore traumatic stress at higher rates. Loneliness is an epidemic and as women tend to be more relational they are more impacted more by loneliness. Women have higher rates of anxiety and depression. Women also tend to juggle multiple roles with lower pay which can negatively impact wellbeing. Keeping mental and emotional health cared for allows you to have more time and energy to focus on other important things.
We all have struggled with things from time to time but if you’ve ever wondered if it was time for professional help, here are a few ways to tell.
There have been several experiences in my personal and professional life that have taught me how resilient and strong people really are. I've worked in Wilderness Therapy with at risk youth, spending 8 days at a time in the back country facing wild weather and wild animals with teens struggling with significant issues. I've had personal and family traumas that have showed me just how much we can overcome. And I've volunteered as a Disaster Mental Health responder with the American Red Cross after natural disasters. I've stood next to people in the tornado ravaged rumble of their home as they tried to pick up the pieces, I’ve talked to a mother who held her small child in her bathtub as the roof was torn off her home, and I’ve sat in hospitals with families grieving loved ones lost. I’ve seen how individuals cope in crisis and after a disaster and I’m seeing connections in how people are responding to COVID-19. People are reacting normally to abnormal events. In this case we are trying to cope with a continuously unfolding disaster that we can’t predict what the toll will ultimately be.
So many of us are feeling the weight of this global pandemic that has now reached our little corner of the US. It’s one thing to watch an event unfold across the globe and it’s another to have it land in your own community. Both can be stressful and scary in different ways and many of us have been watching this unfold for weeks and are experiencing fatigue already. Just as it’s important to take care of your physical health during this time, your mental health and wellness are equally important. And, much like the world we live in, we humans are a mass of connected systems all interconnected and affecting each other. Our stress and mental health impacts our immune system and physical body and vice versa our physical body is hugely connected to mental health.
There's much we can do for ourselves and others to mitigate the long term negative affects of situations such as our current global crisis.
Do you ever find that you bully yourself?
Many of us do. I know I’d never speak to someone else the way I speak to myself when I’m upset. Our clients often talk about how hard this is and that they are trying to be more positive. They’ve heard somewhere that changing how you think can change how you feel. This is true but it’s not the whole picture.
“I wish they taught this stuff in school”.
Many of the clients we see at our therapy practice in Portland, Maine struggle with their emotional experiences. We frequently hear that no one ever taught them how to talk about their feelings, what the purpose of emotions are, or what do do with them.
This is a story I share with the women I work with in therapy, that I think perfectly exemplifies how gratitude can help when it feels like everything is falling apart. Between Veteran’s Day and Thanksgiving November is the perfect month to visit gratitude as a mental wellness skill for women. Last October, my partner and I set out for a 3 day backpacking trip in the White Mountains. The Pemi Loop is about 30 miles of mountain top bliss but also quite a strenuous trek. This turned out to be one of those adventures that proves Murphy’s Law to be true. Everything that could go wrong went wrong.
The women I work with have been talking more and more about how they feel isolated and alone. They want to meet people, to date, to make new friends, or find new jobs but they feel nervous. When we dig into this a bit they say they aren’t feeling too confident about putting themselves out there. This can be connected to a few different things. Sometimes it’s about fear of rejection, feeling that they don’t have enough to offer, or maybe that no one will reciprocate their efforts. It’s also important to examine if there are any ties to past experiences that are impacting your current reality. I provide therapy for women in my Portland, Maine based private practice for a variety of issues but I find a lack of confidence is a very common concern for women who are feeling alone or disconnected.
I’m often asked why I chose to focus my therapy practice on the unique needs of women. This is an easy decision for me. I’ve always been one to follow my passions. I spent 10 years working with high risk youth involved in the juvenile justice system. Working with at-risk youth was rewarding and challenging but more importantly I knew they were overlooked, often missed and that they needed understanding and compassionate support. After 10 years I was ready for a change and following the pursuit of passion, landed on focusing my work on the mental health needs of women.
Starting the search is overwhelming!
The decision to go to therapy is no small thing. Finding a therapist is hard enough, never mind finding a therapist that is the right fit for you. Maybe you’ve heard it’s important to find someone who is the right fit for you but you’re not sure what that looks like. You may have had negative experiences in the past and want to be sure things are different this time. And, odds are if you are taking the step to choose a therapist, you have some stress on your mind. This can be an overwhelming process. We often get calls at our Portland, Maine therapy practice from potential clients who feel like counseling is the next step for them but they don’t know what questions to ask or what to look for. Here are a few things to consider when searching for a therapist who is the right fit for you and some questions to ask when you get them on the phone.