If the pandemic taught us anything (and it certainly was an eye-opener about our way of life) it’s that it’s ok to not be ok, as long as you plan to do something about it.

That’s a conversation that was had during week one of the 2021 ESSENCE Fest as part of ESSENCE Wellness House. Dr. Cleopatra Booker, chief clinical operations leader at Optum, and author, speaker and media personality Roxane Battle led an important conversation on Thriving With Anxiety and Depression and ways that the pandemic put the spotlight on mental health.

“Prior to 2020, it was only about 11 percent of Americans that experienced mental health symptoms. We are now up to 40 percent of Americans who acknowledge that they’re experiencing some form of depression or anxiety,” Dr. Booker shared.

She pointed out that women of color with children at home were almost half of the people saying they were experiencing some form of anxiety and depression. Depression, for clarity, is a period of feeling low and not feeling like you can climb out of it. There can be a lack of focus, as well as irritability where you snap at loved ones and more. As for anxiety, it is a strong feeling of nervousness and fear that envelops the person dealing with it. Some people confuse the physical symptoms of it, like their heart racing, with a heart attack.

“Last year was really tough, even as myself, a licensed psychologist and mental health professional, the one who was supposed to ‘have it all together,'” Dr. Booker says. She was stuck at home with three young sons who she had to help teach schoolwork to and dealing with race in the world, while still balancing her work and her marriage. Balancing her own feeling while also teaching others how to cope through her own was hard.

“I was doubting my capacities and my capabilities at the time,” she says. “I had to streamline structure in my house around my kids. I had to take all that nervous energy, that self-doubt and pour it into the fact that I knew I had to teach my boys now more than ever what was happening in the world.”

She was able to get through it and so was Battle. She didn’t have a house full of kids and dealt with anxiety as she went through quarantine solo as a divorced empty-nester.

“There were times when the walls started closing in. I work every day trying to destigmatize mental health and help people of color get the access they need to mental health services and I was in need of mental health help,” Battle says. She had to say what was going on with her out loud and not be afraid to seek out support, which can be hard.

“Often times mental health issues are stigmatized or make us look weak or somehow our faith isn’t holding us up the way we think it should,” she says. “When in reality, all of that can work together by having the conversation, by relying on faith and a network of friends.”

She called people to be able to connect with them about the fact that she needed to talk. She also practiced self-care.

“The feelings don’t go away. They sit there and sit there and sit there until you address them and acknowledge them and deal with them,” Battle says.

Both women said it’s best to take things a step up and seek professional help when the painful, debilitating feelings of depression and anxiety linger.

“If [after] the journaling, the breathing exercises, the mediation and exercising you still find yourself stuck in a state and you start ruminating and having thoughts about hurting yourself, that’s when you really need to think, ‘I need to reach out and talk to somebody,’ especially if everything you’re doing isn’t producing a result,” Battle says.

But Dr. Booker says you can do something about it sooner if you’re not functioning in the way that you know you can and should, encouraging people to seek out the many resources that have popped up online like the Sanvello app.

“There’s no point in feeling stuck,” she says, “because you won’t move forward and it starts impacting the rest of your life.”

Check out the much-needed conversation above.

TOPICS:  2021 wellness house essence fest Essence Wellness House

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