We at Mindpath Health are always looking for new ways to work towards destigmatizing mental health in our world, whether that be through blogs, videos, or social media. Keeping that in mind, we decided to venture into podcasts, to bring you the voices of our providers and to talk about important mindcare topics.

Below you’ll find the third episode of our new podcast, “Let’s Talk Mindcare” with provider Shantel Sullivan, Ed.D, LCSW, MSW. We hope you enjoy!


Read the Transcript:

Introduction: Hello, and welcome to Let’s Talk Mindcare, a podcast brought to you by Mindpath Health. MindPath is one of the largest outpatient mental health organizations in the Southeast US with over 25 locations and more than 180 providers. For the past 25 years, we have helped tens of thousands of patients across North America and now we’ve created this podcast to further commit ourselves to ending the stigma and continuing the conversation around mental health, through discussions with real mental health professionals. Please note, that while the podcast will include accurate information with professional input, it is not intended as a replacement for medical advice from licensed providers to receive such advice, please contact Mindpath Health at mindpathcare.com or call us at (877) 876-3783 and we will connect you with a professional who can further assist you. We hope you enjoy the episode.

Ciara Pagels (Host): Hi everyone. My name is Ciara Pagels and I’m your host for this episode of Let’s Talk Mindcare. With me today is Shantel Sullivan. Shantel is one of our clinical social workers at our Raleigh office. Shantel, thank you so much for joining me today. Why don’t you go ahead and tell us a little bit about yourself?

Shantel Sullivan, Ed.D, LCSW, MSW: Well, yes. Thank you, Ciara. Good afternoon and good afternoon listeners. Again, I’m Dr. Shantel Sullivan. I’m a licensed clinical social worker here at Mindpath Health. I have the distinct pleasure of being the regional director for psychotherapy for Wake County and have been a clinical social worker since 2008. Um, so I’ve really appreciated getting to serve communities towards their mindcare needs.

Ciara Pagels (Host): Awesome. For today’s episode, we wanted to discuss how COVID impacts mental health today. And I was just wanting to kind of pick your brain and see what your thoughts are or what you’ve seen while working during COVID.

Shantel Sullivan, Ed.D, LCSW, MSW: Well, certainly the pandemic has caused lots of emotional upheaval, whether that’s new emotions or experiences of emotions through the pandemic, or sometimes it’s been a resurrection of emotions and mental and emotional health challenges that somebody had been able to learn coping skills to handle or have been well managed and maintained for a period of time and sort of came back as a result of the unknown, uh, during the time of the pandemic, whether that was because of health and illness or, you know, the isolation and distance from their loved ones to trying to navigate an entirely new world in how we would show up or not be able to show up in certain spaces of our life, whether that was at work or supermarkets or you know, a big one graduation for so many people. And that really spans the entire, um, age group, like think about it. Kids were impacted, uh, young adults who were graduating from high school or college and preparing to be on their way, parents who lost experiences and opportunities with their family or you know, unfortunately, um, and devastatingly maybe have lost a parent or had a parent in the hospital during that time. So I think in, so many ways everybody was impacted some of us more than others.

Ciara Pagels (Host): Yeah, definitely. Um, do you think that COVID has almost like open doors when it comes to ending the stigma behind mental health? Like, do you see. Maybe a lot more people talking about it openly or a lot more people coming forward to get some help on anything they might.

Shantel Sullivan, Ed.D, LCSW, MSW: I think so, you know, um, I actually had someone just raise like the comment to me, “like I never saw myself showing up in a space like this. I never thought I would be, um, asking for help”, but specifically mental health support, like seeing a therapist or a counselor and even more so like doing it over a telehealth like looking and talking to someone about their feelings and experiences through the computer. Um, you know, maybe we do that in our social lives, but we didn’t think that it would happen, um, in our, in our, of access to healthcare or mental health services. So, you know, to your question, like, I definitely think that the pandemic has invited more people in to seeking mental health, reducing some of the stigma because life became really unmanageable in a lot of different ways. Um, you know, or things that emotion situations that folks were able to, you know, self-contain and talk themselves through, um, became exacerbated and so they needed something more than what they were able to provide themselves at that time.

Um, and you know, just talking about social media and uh, you know, television and in and of itself, I think had really highlighted the emotional mental impact and so having celebrities talk about it, um, hearing it on the news, having, uh, you know, channels really encouraging and talking about people to consider their mental health needs to also include substance use services, right?

Like, I talked a little bit, um, in the beginning of the pandemic, just considering how people’s experience with using alcohol or recreational substances and, you know, there’s that, that silly country song, it’s five o’clock somewhere, right? Um, when you’re living at home more frequently than usual, you’re not having to go to work or you know, attend appointments or take your kids places. It really created space where time maybe, you know, the clock or extra responsibilities, um, that you might’ve had that reduced your frequency or duration of alcohol use or, um, would have been maintained. And because of the pandemic is like, anytime was a good time and so I think even having, um, people talking about that more openly in communities, whether that’s, you know, o Facebook or Instagram or in, you know, in Tik Tok, people just like making videos and seeing the presence of the struggle with both. Hmm, mental, emotional health and substance use.

Ciara Pagels (Host): Yeah, absolutely. Even in my personal life, like on social media and everything, I’m seeing a lot more people talk about mental health and they would be people like I grew up with in high school or like family members that I’d never knew they were struggling with anything. And just, it was like this whole new community once COVID started, it’s like a little, little tiny, tiny light in like a dark tunnel when people started talking about that.

Shantel Sullivan, Ed.D, LCSW, MSW: So, yeah, like I think, you know, that, that is one of the benefits of social media is people saying like, um, how’s your day going? Like question mark, like sort of insinuating, like my day isn’t so good and sort of inviting other people for conversations. Um, you know, or just talking about, you know, Everyone in our house was crying last night, you know, just putting it out there that people are sharing and expressing and, and, um, and really feeling their emotions.

Ciara Pagels (Host): Absolutely. Yeah. It’s kind of like social media stopped being that highlight reel for a little bit and people started being a lot more real like, Hey, I want to talk to somebody now, whether it’s a professional or even just a friend.

Shantel Sullivan, Ed.D, LCSW, MSW: Yeah. Yeah. Sometimes social media only will often the tip of the iceberg, right. People show us what they want to see. Like, you know, the cute picture of everyone in their matching Christmas pajamas or, you know, this exciting vacation. We don’t always see the real, real of somebody’s life. Right. And so I think you’re right. The time of the pandemic, maybe people were a little bit more, um, genuine and authentic and allowed people to see like a little bit below the tip of the iceberg.

Ciara Pagels (Host): Exactly. Yep. Um, and then kinda just rewinding a little bit. You did mention telehealth and I, of course, wanted to touch on that a little bit. Um, I wanted to ask you the benefits of telehealth as a professional and also like what you’re seeing on the patient’s side, like, what are your thoughts on that?

Shantel Sullivan, Ed.D, LCSW, MSW: Yeah, right. Well, I appreciate you like looking at it from both vantage points, right? Like what is telehealth mean? Or what does telehealth look like in me and for the person who might utilize the service and then what might telehealth look like, um, and feel like for the, the provider on the other end, the therapist or clinician or physician on the other end.

And so first let’s talk about the person who’s seeking the service and telehealth does a couple of really wonderful things. It helps with time management, right? So I don’t have to figure out how to add an extra half-hour commute and then 45 minutes or an hour in a session with somebody. And then a half-hour, 20 minutes fighting traffic to get back home or to work. I’m not having to use, you know, my paid time off perhaps to go to a medical appointment and you might be able to then just through telehealth jump on before you go to work, um, or at your lunch break. So when we talk about accessibility, it makes it more manageable to show up, to receive services because you don’t have to think about that extra bit of time.

The other thing is that there’s some comfort and security in doing it, right? You don’t have to navigate finding an office. You don’t have to navigate sitting in a waiting room, you know, all the extra anxieties and stressors that may come with that. You can be in the comfort of your own home, you could be, you know, oftentimes I see people, you know, their dogs beside them or their cats on their lap, um, which adds an extra layer of safety and security.

Um, so I think that increases access for people. It makes it a little bit more at reach because I don’t have to navigate all those other time requirements or spaces. Um, yeah, so I think that’s from, from, uh, from a person seeking services, point of view, it increases access availability, uh, which otherwise, maybe you just didn’t feel like you had time for.

And then from a provider standpoint, I would just say that you know, the element of also seeing people who may not have been able to access counseling or mental health services because there were too many obstacles in the way, right? Finding and coordinating transportation, or, you know, finding a babysitter or having to take time off of work. So for us, it’s great because people are able to show up, which means that we get to do the job that we love.

We get to help. Uh, the other thing is for providers, you know, it’s just, people may be a little bit more in my experience, able to share things that they might not in the office because of that sense of being in their own personal space. Right? Like I’m, I’m sitting in my favorite chair in my house, I hadn’t just felt more anxious sitting in the waiting room, and so I’m able to share and disclose more information.

Um, so I find for me personally, that the people I get to work with, um, maybe are a little bit more vulnerable earlier in their experiences because they feel safe in the environment they’re talking to me and not the offices aren’t safe. Right? But just this year in nature. You know, being in my favorite chair and, you know, like I can like have my favorite snugly blanket, like on my lap as I’m talking to you or, um, you know.

Some of the challenges though, I think for both the person and the provider is, um, some of the nonverbal communication that happens when you’re in space with somebody is lost and we work really hard to build those connections through the screen if you will.

But, um, certainly there can be that just challenge of, you know, I don’t think many people went to school to become a therapist thinking that their work would be through a computer. Although I think that’s going to change right. Telehealth isn’t going to go away. And so, so, you know, behavioral health providers, clinicians, you know, therapists, um, you know, I use those terms interchangeably, but you know, now that’s a new, that’s a new element of, of our work of our craft, essentially that we’re going to have to learn. You know we didn’t, we didn’t learn how to do telehealth through a computer. It’s something that we were experiencing for many of us the first time as were the people we were serving. You know, we we’re, we’re going through this together.

Ciara Pagels (Host): Yeah. Um, and then just kind of thinking about how things are right now. I mean, obviously, like you said, telehealth definitely isn’t going anywhere. Um, I know when I worked front office at a mental health clinic, uh, the biggest problem was that people couldn’t make their appointments because we were open eight to five.

So with telehealth now people are able to just jump on during their lunch or whenever they, wherever they can squeeze it in. So telehealth definitely is not disappearing anytime soon.

Shantel Sullivan, Ed.D, LCSW, MSW: Yeah. Yeah. It definitely makes more flexibility in everybody’s life. Right. For the person receiving the services and for the person providing the support. Right. Like, I love that. I see some people at 7:00 AM in the morning – now if I had to be in my office at seven in the morning, it might have never happened right. It’s easier to do it from my home at seven in the morning. So I have a little bit more flexibility. Um, and for folks who are like, yeah, like I don’t have to be to work until eight-thirty and so this is awesome. Like, I will just jump on with you at seven in the morning before I even have to go to work. If it meant having to be to an office, they wouldn’t have done that either. So, um, yeah, it’s, it’s awesome in that way.

Ciara Pagels (Host): Yeah. Um, and then just kind of thinking about how things are now and how like masks aren’t necessarily required anymore and just how things are slowly opening back up. Um, do you think that like this openness and more coming forward that people have to seek mental health, do you think that’s going to continue, or do you think people are going to slowly close back down? Um, or do you think people are going to start coming back into office? Like what are your thoughts as we start going back to normal-ish?

Shantel Sullivan, Ed.D, LCSW, MSW: Yeah. Well, that’s a lot of, uh, good questions, like combined together, like really thinking about. What is the new normal, right? And we’re starting to make changes, but what will that really look like going forward? And then what will be the, uh, sort of fallout from all of that? So first I think what I would like to respond to is that yes.

Um, there will be a new normal, I don’t think it is realistic to think that anything will ever be exactly the same. Right. We, we all experienced something, uh, probably that no one had experienced fully in their lifetime and so we will be changed by that. And goodness, I sure hope that the, the transparency, some of the honesty, the vulnerability that communities shared with one another during the time of the pandemic, doesn’t go away.

I hope that people really saw the value and not only the value in sharing it but that you’re not alone. Right. And so that concept of not being alone, that you’ll continue to ask for help, that you’ll continue to listen to and honor, you know, your body in its entirety, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

Um, and just like you would go to your, you know, your doctor if you were having physical aches and pains, That you’ll show up to a counselor or therapist, you know, a professional for your mental and emotional aches and pains. Right?

Um, so specifically though, also about masking and the idea that we, you know, aren’t required to wear a mask, some places are still, you know, encouraging people to wear their masks. I think now it’s more of, a personal choice as to what makes you feel most safe. Right? And so if that means, um, masking in certain places – go for it! Right. Um, whatever decision you make is the best decision for you because it’s the decision that you’ve chosen for yourself and so if you go to the supermarket and they have like a, they don’t have a sign or anything saying like, you know, we encourage you to wear a mask and you decide you want to wear one in there. Great!

Right. Um, and sort of an approach that you could take as you think about unmasking essentially is choosing to maybe sample taking your mask off a little bit, right? Like I wouldn’t go to a really busy supermarket or to the mall during the peak hour for the first time not wearing my mask. That’s inviting extra stress and anxiety. What I might do is go at a time when it’s not so busy and experience being without a mask without so many people in the same space. Right. That might be something that I do. Take it off and experience a little bit of what it feels like to have it off before you throw yourself in fully to like a really, maybe a busier place for the first time.

Ciara Pagels (Host): Yeah and that was kind of, kind of be my next question was just if you had any advice, um, for the people that might be really, really anxious or really, really nervous of kind of going into the new world. I mean, even for the people that are keeping their mask on, but still so nervous about everyone around them that might not have their mask on. Do you have any like advice or some skills that they might be able to use on their own, um, to kind of deal with that?

Shantel Sullivan, Ed.D, LCSW, MSW: Yeah. Yeah, absolutely. I think, you know, one of the things is to, um, you know, practice, good, deep breathing techniques to ground yourself in those experiences to acknowledge and validate for yourself that, um, this is scary, right? If I’m, if I’m nervous about this it’s because I was told to be nervous about this and told not to be around people for so long. And so my brain is telling me I’m doing something, you know that I, that maybe I shouldn’t be. And so just honor yourself first and then. Yes, I am nervous right now. And this is different. This is the first time, or these are the first few times that I’ve gone out and been around people. And in that moment, really, you can use a couple of different things. Taking good deep breaths, just full inhale through your nose and full exhalations. You know, again, through your nose or out your mouth, whichever feels better for you.

Just knowing that your breath is always there for you to help kind of keep you calm and relax you in those moments. And then there’s other grounding skills that somebody could, could learn. Um, you know, meeting with a counselor, a therapist would be another great thing. Like, don’t feel like you’re alone in navigating the new world by yourself.

Um, you know, talking to someone about it is really important. Just sharing your fears or concerns as well.

Ciara Pagels (Host): Yeah, absolutely. Um, well, this has been amazing. Is there anything that you would like to add at all?

Shantel Sullivan, Ed.D, LCSW, MSW: Uh, no. I really appreciate the time and the opportunity to talk about, um, you know, you know, mind, path thinking really mindcare, right? Like how we take care of our emotional and mental health self because that’s a part of us. Right. And, um, you know, just the last comment is I hope people will, will really continue to honor themselves by talking, talking about and exploring, um, with other people, how they’re thinking and feeling about the new world.

Ciara Pagels (Host): Yeah. Awesome. Well, thank you so much for joining me today and hopefully we can talk again about another topic soon.

Shantel Sullivan, Ed.D, LCSW, MSW: Yeah, absolutely. Well, thanks for sharing some time with me.

Ciara Pagels

Ciara Pagels is the Social Media and Content Manager at Mindpath Health. Ciara graduated from Arizona State University with a degree in Graphic Information Technology – Publishing & Print and a minor in English. She had participated as the Art Editor for her on-campus magazine, Superstition Review, and is a published writer for The Borgen Project. Ciara was raised in ... Read Full Bio »

Shantel Sullivan, Ed.D, LCSW, MSW

Raleigh, NC

Dr. Sullivan grew up in rural, Upstate New York and earned her doctorate and master’s degrees from the University of New England in Portland Maine. She brings over a decade of clinical practice experience working with individuals, families, and communities. Dr. Sullivan has extensively worked with people who are dealing with grief, loss, caregiver fatigue, secondary trauma, and other major ... Read Full Bio »

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