Community Perspective

Alaska’s mental health providers are here for you

Mental illness can, and does, affect us all. It’s just as real as a scraped knee or a broken bone. It’s not always debilitating, but it does always affect how we experience life. It can happen when we least expect it and in ways we don’t always initially realize.

Each May, Mental Health Awareness Month highlights the prevalence of mental illness in an effort to break down any stigma about seeking mental health treatment. This year in particular, mental health is top of mind as we continue with social distancing, disrupted routines, and increased stress and anxiety in our day-to-day lives. Many people are experiencing serious anxiety for the first time right now, without the same access to community they’re used to or an arsenal of coping tools from past therapy.

There are a lot of tips out there: Get physical exercise, connect with loved ones, get outside for fresh air. However, the step that seems the hardest is asking for help. It’s easy to feel like you’re the only one struggling, but few people go through life without a time when mental health treatment is needed, whether it’s for anxiety, depression or any number of other life challenges.

The good news: Mental health treatment works. Many people find relief from symptoms in just a few sessions. In fact, just taking that first step of making an appointment can make people feel better immediately. Treatments also provide hope for long-term, ongoing relief from chronic symptoms.

Reaching out for help is a sign of strength. It takes a lot more courage to work to get better than to hide from a problem. There is no reason to wait for things to get worse before reaching out for support — it’s OK to ask for help when we first start to feel overwhelmed. If we can keep ourselves healthy and well, we can make positive contributions to our communities at large.

Mental health treatment is just as important as treatment for diabetes or heart disease. In fact, seeking mental health treatment often results in improved overall health. Depression, anxiety and the resulting stress affect our hormone levels and immune systems. The risk of coronary heart disease doubles in people who show even mild, chronic depression, anxiety and stress. Mental health services teach ways to effectively manage stressors and mitigate those harms.

Mental health providers in Alaska have gotten really good, really fast, at providing caring, empathic services via telehealth. We’re now serving even our youngest clients this way, finding creative ways to meet with preschoolers and provide support to their families. Today, clients of all ages can attend a video therapy session from a phone.

We’re working every day, no matter the circumstances, to provide recovery and wellness to Alaskans.

That’s what we are here for.

Compiled by Jessica Cochran with contributions by Rozel Buzby; Michaela Cameron; Saraj Gottstein, MA; Mara Hill, MA, LPC; Pamela Kennedy, MS, LPC, NCC; Sharon Sauer and Michele Vangelas.

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