Raising awareness on mental health and how to take better care of yourself is a discussion that isn’t talked about as frequently as it should be. Mankato Mental Health Associates (MMHA) provides services that help destigmatize what previous thoughts of mental health look like.
MMHA offers services to those who suffer not only from usual disorders such as depression and anxiety, but also issues including eating disorders, coming out and medical issues. MMHA has therapy for individuals, families and couples.
Psychologist Dawn Ulrich-Spitzer was the first to be certified in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing — a type of therapy that helps clients suffering from PTSD, panic and trauma — back in 2007. Since then, all MMHA clinicians are certified in EMDR which makes Ulrich-Spitzer thrilled.
“We work a lot with trauma and trauma can be anything from falling down the stairs to being in a war zone to being assaulted,” Ulrich-Spitzer said. “Because I was certified in EMDR [early on], I work often with veterans and victims of assault or child abuse.”
During the Covid-19 pandemic, MMHA did not shut their doors to the public. MMHA offered clients the choice to either attend via telehealth sessions or in person while wearing masks. Ulrich-Spitzer said that, out of her 45 clients, 40 attended in person; an achievement she was proud of.
“We work with a lot of clients who are poor and need medical assistance. Maybe don’t have health insurance or medicare, so they don’t have access to a smart phone or tablet and they’re technologically challenged, so we gave all our clients options to attend,” Ulrich-Spitzer said. “There’s something different about seeing a therapist face to face than over telehealth and video.”
Older generations viewed mental health treatment by simply getting up and switching their attitude. Ulrich-Spitzer said the physical symptoms that accompany mental illnesses are an often-overlooked aspect of mental health.
“We have a tendency to believe that our brains are different, but we have this mind-body connection that where if someone is struggling with mental health issues, they’re going to be experiencing some physical symptoms. They may have stomach issues, high blood pressure or they may have excessive sweating,” Ulrich-Spitzer said. “For some people, they can [pull themselves up by the bootstraps]. For others, it becomes so severe that it’s not even a possibility.”
One of the most common stigmas surrounding mental health is the need to take medication to reduce symptoms of mental illness. Ulrich-Spitzer explained that 85% of people who take medications for mental illness are only on medication for a portion of their life. The other 15% are on medication for life. Ulrich-Spitzer is part of the 15% and has accepted that it’s not wrong to take medication if needed.
“There’s a stigma about medications. ‘Why are you taking meds? All you have to do is think differently.’ Well, people’s brain chemistry which could be genetic, may need medications which is so helpful in getting the brain to work normal,” Ulrich-Spitzer said. “I wouldn’t do well without meds for my entire life and that’s okay. I’m okay with my brain not doing well if I’m not on medications.”
Over the last few years, mainstream media has been raising awareness on, andurging people to have conversations regarding, their mental health. Ulrich-Spitzer believes people talk about mental health more openly than they used to.
“I believe that friends will talk more about it like ‘I’ve just noticed that you’re kind of down’ and that might stimulate some conversation. I believe it’s more acceptable, even amongst my peers I’ll say ‘ugh, I’m having a tough time,’ or someone might say it to me, but we’re supportive and listening,” Ulrich-Spitzer said. “I think there is more discussion about it and people are more apt to help people find services. My hope is people are listening more instead of cutting people off.”
Ulrich-Spitzer said the best way to raise awareness is through educating people with articles, social media and workshops. She also mentioned how people should reach out to men more often about their mental health.
“The stigma of ‘men don’t have mental health issues’ [still exists]. Men don’t talk about it as much as women do. I think we need to get men and boys in more to talk about what’s going on and being more observant about how are they isolating,” Ulrich-Spitzer said.
Ulrich-Spitzer encourages those considering psychology to join the field, not only because of the lack of mental health providers, but for the plentiful rewards that come from the job.
“There’s so many mental health providers that are needed as many people are retiring and not enough people wanting to go in. I want people to do the field because it’s very rewarding and you’ll never not have a job,” Ulrich-Spitzer said. “It’s helping people and watching them get better.”
Dawn Ulrich-Spitzer is a psychologist at Mankato Mental Health Associates. Ulrich-Spitzer was the first clinician at MMHA to be certified in EMDR, a type of therapy that focuses on healing from trauma. (Courtesy photo)
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