Managing Our Mental Health in a Polarized World

Tell Me More: Episode 5


(Music fades in) Have you found yourself feeling frustrated, angry or at odds with family and life-long friends over things like whether to wear a face mask, whether to get a vaccine or any other hot button issues? Well, if so, you are definitely not alone. Polarization in America appears to be a wide divide. It’s carving our nation into distinct camps – where compromise is, more often than not, tossed out the window. Is this a true picture of what’s happening here? And if so, what does it all mean for our relationships and our mental health?

I’m Susan Brozek Scott, and in this episode of Tell Me More we’re talking with Don Laird, licensed psychotherapist and founder of eTalkTherapy.com, who can help us understand what’s happening and what we can do about it. (Music fades out)

SUSAN: Don, good to be with you again.

DON: As always, a pleasure to be with you as well Susan.

SUSAN: Don, is the political polarization or the emotional polarization in America really as bad as it seems? What are psychologists saying?

DON: As I’ve said in previous podcasts, Susan, getting vaccinated or wearing a mask is not a political statement and it should not be viewed as such by any group or individual. This is a public health crises and it’s about demonstrating compassion and care for yourself and others. Much of the fear we are experiencing right now – let’s be frank, it’s preventable. We have to stop polarizing the issues and come together to fight the real enemy which is this virus.

SUSAN: Are we prepared, do you think, to handle the mental health crises and all of this polarization and do we have the funding to handle it?

DON: Wow, that’s a great question Susan and one that I’m quite passionate about. So, excuse me if I pull the soap box out for a moment here. So, we are not. The long and short of it is this: we talk a good game when it comes to mental health but frankly mental health has always been at the bottom of the barrel of the health care system. Insurance companies talk about it all the time, how they want to promote better mental health; agencies talk about it all the time, but the bottom line is and we see time and time again that people are being turned away for the most basic types of services that are available out there. And these are the most vulnerable folks in our society. We have to do better. We have to rise to this challenge and be able to get the funding to the folks who need it the most. That means front-line workers, the people who are out there in the trenches delivering these services. Therapists, counselors, in the community, in private practices, in agencies allowing them the opportunity to do the work that they are passionate about and not get caught up in all the rep tape – and frankly the frustrating part of whether or not I’m going to get paid for this service because I’m dealing with insurance companies. This is something that, again I’m quite passionate about, but we have to be able to rise to the occasion and meet this challenge. This is going to be the next wave of this pandemic. The mental health crisis, the hurricane that is now brewing , we are going to be dealing with for years and decades to come.

SUSAN: What, Don, can happen if we don’t start to address these feelings that people are having? We see it on TV, we see it on social media all the time – the viral videos going around. People are really in some severe crisis.

DON: One way for us to understand this Susan, one of the first things we should be looking at is how people are responding to stages in a disaster, in this case, a global pandemic. Everyone is built differently. Everyone has their own perspective. But there are shared and common grounds for our experiences. There is research, and evidence that defines the stages of stress on communities from disasters. Early, during or right after a disaster – ok – in this case a global pandemic, communities tend to pull together. People support each other, and are generally kind and create a sense of community, a sense of togetherness. Think back, Susan, to the first few weeks of the initial lock-down about 18 months ago when everyone in the neighborhood waved to everyone else; asked how they were and showed – what – genuine concern and kindness. Unfortunately, that spirit wears thin as stress and frustration builds. We get tired. “Things are taking too long!” “No one seems to know what to do here.” “Where is the leadership and who do I trust?” That’s when we hit a disillusionment stage. We begin to lose our optimism and trust and start to have negative reactions OR negative reactions to almost everything we hear and see. That’s about where we stand now as a society. People are exhausted of this and they’re taking great risks with their lives and the lives of others. They’d rather risk getting sick then getting vaccinated or wearing a mask or both. There’s a number of reason here, Susan, and social media – let me just add this – social media is the main culprit here for spreading this misinformation. People have stopped listening to the experts and they won’t follow the science. This stage that we’re talking about right now, this could last more than a year once the pandemic is under control. And we’re nowhere close that at this time.

SUSAN: Can you give us some concrete steps to help people acknowledge how they feel – all of this frustration – and steps to have them reach out to people they may strongly disagree with in a way that’s more positive rather than so negative?

DON: Sure! Absolutely and it’s a great note to end on. Set the boundaries and try to come to agreement. This is a discussion about facts not opinions. We are here to understand and explain our views not to change the other person’s mind. Let’s each try to speak for ourselves and not try to speak for any outside group. Can we avoid the talking points and otherwise this is basic and standard stuff. Stuff we already know Susan and frankly we learned it in kindergarten: Take your turn. Don’t interrupt. Listen. Be respectful – that means no eye-rolling, sighs or laughter when someone is speaking. I can’t say or emphasize this enough: an argument is just a failed discussion. Let me say that again, an argument is a failed discussion. Always bring your best self into the conversation.

SUSAN: If someone, Don, feels they need help in taking the first step to get some help, what can they do?

DON: Reach out to a professional if you’re unsure. The time is now. Don’t wait for things to get better on their own. They probably won’t. At eTalkTherapy we offer free phone consultations to help match you with the right therapist and if we don’t have that person for you, we will give you referrals that are either online or in your area. We’ve been providing telemental health services in Pennsylvania since 2017. And we’ve got a great group of experienced and licensed therapists who are ready to start helping you make changes today. Go to eTalkTherapy.com for further details on scheduling a free consultation or for your first appointment. It takes real courage to reach out and admit that you need help with an issue. So why not get started today?

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SUSAN: Don Laird, licensed psychotherapist and founder of eTalkTherapy.com, thanks so much for helping guide us through these very challenging times.

DON: Thank you Susan, as always it’s a pleasure.

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This podcast does not provide medical advice. The content is for informational purposes only. Consult with your doctor on all medical issues regarding your condition and treatments. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional psychiatric or medical advice, diagnosis or treatment nor does it replace the need for services provided by a medical or psychiatric professional. Always seek the advice of a medical professional, psychiatrist or therapist before making any changes to your treatment.

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