This year the world has faced sickness, death, job loss, strained social environments, injustices, and tragedies – everyday life has become unusual for many. Most of us have struggled with our mental health or know someone who has. We spoke with Licensed Mental Health Counselor, Antionette Pollard to learn more about depression and anxiety, when to seek help, how to cope during COVID-19, and the importance of mental health care.
Pieces to Peace Counseling
Antionette Pollard is a Licensed Medical Health Counselor in Lakeland. She is married to her husband Jerry, with three children Jerry, 15, Aleecia, 13, and Alayna, 9. Pollard graduated from Kathleen High School before going to the University of South Florida for her undergraduate degree in Family Communication. She returned to Lakeland to earn her Master’s in Counseling from Webster University.
Pollard originally planned to become an attorney. While pursuing her undergrad, she became pregnant with her son, Jerry. “That helped me shift focus for what I was going to school for,” she said. An academic advisor suggested a career in counseling. “Naturally I’ve always been that friend that everyone goes to, to confide in,” said Pollard. Her first Intro to Psychology class solidified this change of path. “It resonated with my soul,” she said. She started Pieces to Peace Counseling in 2016, seeing patients ages 13 and up, individual and couples counseling, and is an LGBTQ-friendly office. Pieces to Peace Counseling accepts cash, EAP (Employee Assistance Program), and insurance.
Pollard is passionate about affordable, accessible mental health care. A concern she often heard from friends and family regarding mental health treatment was lack of affordability – either a provider didn’t take their insurance or they outright couldn’t afford to go to them.
Though counseling through community agencies is valuable, Pollard says the long waitlist and high counselor turnover rate can be a deterrent to seeking or staying with treatment. “Somebody needs to do something about it,” she said. “I’m a very solution-focused person. We all know the problems, but what are we going to do to start to make some changes?”
In 2018, she started Pieces to Peace Charities or P2P Counseling Charities. This nonprofit provides counseling for $5 to individuals making under $26K per year through master’s level intern counselor, Michelle Jones, MA who sees patients 8 years old and up. Due to COVID-19, Pieces to Peace Counseling and their Charities services are being conducted primarily via Telehealth.
Also under the charities umbrella is Sista Yoga Self Care, a group focusing on Women of Color. “We focus on a mental health topic, we do a yoga session, and follow with journaling,” Pollard explained. The group is held about once a quarter with their most recent this past June.
Yoga is one way Pollard cares for her mental health. She says the positive feedback from the Sista Yoga Self Care group inspired her to become a Registered Yoga Teacher. The counselor plans to incorporate yoga into her therapy, specifically with addiction support groups covering all addictions from drugs and alcohol to eating, sex, and shopping. “In order for someone to use a substance to aid in anything there are other conditions and other traumas that cause those responses,” she said. The session would first address a mental health or addiction topic followed by journaling and yoga. Pollard will incorporate yoga into a therapy session if requested by a client.
According to Pollard, “Depression is a persistent sadness or loss of interest in things you normally found to be interesting and enjoy doing.” Though depression is often equated with grief, she distinguished the two. “With grief, you still have your self-esteem. Depression brings on feelings of guilt and you kind of lose that self-esteem, self-confidence that you had.”
It is recommended to seek out help for any depression symptoms lasting longer than two weeks. Though it is always a good time to talk with someone if you are feeling this way. If suicidal thoughts emerge, seek assistance immediately, you are not alone.
Anxiety is a panic disorder preventing those who suffer with it from doing certain things out of fear, according to Pollard. This could manifest in something like adding time to your commute to avoid the fastest route to work because it goes over a bridge that you’re scared of or even going to the grocery store.
Acknowledgment is important, says Pollard. It is all about recognizing that a situation makes you anxious and finding practical solutions to cope. “We’re all different individuals which means we have to do what works best for us,” she said. For example, if you are a person who already suffers from anxiety and that has been amplified by COVID-19, and the grocery store is a trigger for that anxiety, explore other shopping options. Order online and have your food delivered or opt for curbside pick-up.
When those feelings start to arise, Pollard says, “I recommend things that you find to be soothing and calming.” That could be favorite music or a guided meditation, “To help you with your self-talk and calming yourself down to prevent those panic attacks.”
“With anxiety and depression, it’s really important that a therapist is aware of their clients that have diverse backgrounds because the way anxiety, for instance, presents in an African American, may not look the same in a Caucasian person,” noted Pollard. “For example, with anxiety, most people think of fears and panic attacks. For People of Color it may not be panic attacks, they may be irritable [which] is also a symptom of fear.”
Mental Health Hacks
First and foremost, don’t downplay or compare your life situation or mental health with others. “It’s not a comparison. If it’s important to you, then it’s worth getting help for, it’s worth getting counseling,” said Pollard.
She also suggests limiting screen time for social media and the news. “I understand, we feel like we have to be connected, we don’t want to miss something important,” she said. “It’s okay if you even need to remove those things.”
Another tip for someone experiencing depression or anxiety is to create a schedule at home. It needn’t be rigorous, but an establishment of basic tasks and activities. “Having some type of structure is helpful,” she said. Like getting up and having breakfast by 10 a.m. every morning, setting aside time to read, or cleaning up at a certain time.
To quiet some of the mind chatter and racing thoughts, give journaling a try, it’s something Pollard uses frequently with her clients. “We have a lot of things floating up here in our minds that we try and hold onto. Journaling gives us the chance to release that and free up the mind.”
A great way to care for your mind is to care for your body too. “Those emotions need to go somewhere, and most of the time we use work as an outlet. Getting out, getting in your car, at work you’re chatting with coworkers, whatever you normally do on your lunch break. Your body is having more movement throughout the day,” said Pollard. Now that many are working from home, that movement and routine have changed. Engaging your body is conducive to your mental health, says Pollard. “If you’re able to, walk the neighborhood. Pull up YouTube, do some yoga online. Different things like that can be very helpful and encouraging.”
Helping A Friend
As a community and as individuals, the best thing we can do for our friends and family struggling with their mental health is to be supportive. Listen to them and do not disregard their feelings. If you notice someone in your life struggling, reach out and ask how they’re doing.It’s normal to throw away the formalities of “Hi, how are you?” and move on with the conversation, but Pollard suggests asking pointed questions. When was the last time you ate? When was the last time you talked to a friend aside from me? How have you been sleeping? Factors like sleep and appetite, namely too much or too little, can be a sign that someone may need to reach out for help, according to the licensed mental health counselor.
“We can also remind our family and friends if they are employed, most employers have something called an EAP (Employee Assistance Program) and they offer free counseling sessions,” she said. “Your EAP is not just for you, but for everyone in your household.”
What to Expect from the First Visit
“That first appointment is finding out support systems, what’s their goal for counseling,” said Pollard. Establishing a goal is crucial, she says. “It’s important that individuals know that I’m not here with my own agenda trying to work on whatever I want to work on, but what you want to work on.” A tool she gives her clients from the beginning is the app Daylio. The app is free or can be purchased for more features. She described it as a mood charting app with space for comments about why your mood went up or down, and even offers statistics to see your moods in graph format.
Not only does the app put a bad day into perspective so that it doesn’t shadow the whole week, but it also gives individuals the comments section to look back on for things to discuss with their counselor. “It lets you know if counseling is working for you because you have some visual proof.”
Find the Right One
Counselors are as unique as the needs of their patients. “Counseling is like dating, you have to find a counselor who fits you,” said Pollard.
Often someone will wait until they are in a crisis to contact a counselor and may not feel any better after their appointment. If you don’t feel a rapport or a sense that your counselor understands your personality and your needs and goals, continue your search for the right counselor.
You wouldn’t swear off dating forever based on one incompatible first date. Don’t give up on taking care of your mental health after one session with an incompatible counselor.
Mental Health is a Primary Concern
Depending on life circumstances, grief, stress, trauma, “We all need help at different points in our lives,” said Pollard.
“Just because an individual has a counselor doesn’t mean they use it every day or often, but the main reason for having an established counselor is so when you do have those crisis moments, you’re not trying to find someone in the middle of a crisis. You already have someone identified that you have a good rapport with so when things come up, you can make a phone call,” said Pollard. She even has a therapist of her own. “[Your mental health] should be taken just as seriously as your primary health.” If you have a designated primary doctor, or dentist, why wouldn’t you have an established counselor?
Make time for your mental health, make it a priority. “A lot of times people will say, ‘Time heals all wounds.’ But that’s not the case, it’s actually what you do with the time that makes that process more healing.”
Pieces to Peace Counseling
918 East Oleander St. Suite: 1, Lakeland
P2P Counseling Charities
918 East Oleander St. Suite: 1, Lakeland
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
Talk now at suicidepreventionlifeline.org