The Director of Ascension Parish’s Counseling Center shared tips last week identifying and coping with mental health issues.

Dr. Lisa Weber-Curry, Licensed Professional Counselor and Counselor Supervisor and Director of Ascension Counseling Center, gave a special presentation Thursday during Donaldsonville Mayor Leroy Sullivan’s bi-weekly Facebook broadcast at City Hall.

Weber-Curry has more than 26 years of experience in mental health and substance abuse counseling, specializing in family psychology and professional counseling. She is also a retired veteran of the 244th Aviation Regiment of the Louisiana National Guard.

Her presentation was titled “April showers bring May flowers. Let’s start minding our garden.” The idea of “minding” means to pay close attention to overall well being, especially during the trying times brought on by the coronavirus pandemic.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Observed every year since 1949, the theme this year is #Tools2Thrive. It was chosen in a time of unprecedented anxiety due to the worldwide pandemic.

Weber-Curry said mental illness conditions affect thinking, feeling, behavior, or mood. Such illnesses can impact day-to-day living.

“You are not alone,” she said. “Such conditions are far more common than you think.”

A stigma remains attached to mental health conditions. Many are afraid to talk about their feelings.

“If you don’t talk about it, it can never be treated,” she said.

Statistically, about 1 in every 5 adults in the United States experience a mental illness. The figures for serious illnesses are about 1 in 25. Youth experiencing an illness is about 1 in 6.

About half of all lifetime mental illness begins by age 14. Suicide is the second-leading cause of death for ages 10 to 34.

Weber-Curry said mental health is not just one event. It stems from genetics, environment, and lifestyle. A stressful job or home life, and traumatic events like floods and hurricanes can affect mental well being.

She said having a condition does not mean an individual is “broken,” and recovery is possible by starting treatment early and playing a role in the process.

There are several common warning signs, including sudden overwhelming fear, excessive worrying, excessive sadness or loneliness, confused thinking, problems concentrating, extreme mood changes, prolonged irritability or anger, avoiding social activity, difficulty understanding or relating to people, changes in sleep or eating, and difficulty perceiving reality.

Adolescents may exhibit slightly different signs, such as changes in school performance, avoiding school or sleep, hyperactivity, disobedience or aggression, and social withdrawal.

Weber-Curry said it is common to feel anxiety when under excessive stress. 

“Recognizing how you feel can help you manage stress. Even when you don’t feel in control. Focus on what you can control,” she said.

Additionally, be selective about consuming certain information. Follow a healthy routine and stay connected with loved ones, even if over the Internet. Make sleep a priority, and eat nutritious foods as often as possible.

She also emphasized the importance of exercise and movement. Walking, stretching, dancing - any aerobic exercise - can help. Many low-impact exercises can be done at home.

“Practice relaxing in the present moment. It’s what we call mindfulness,” Weber-Curry said.

As it has been recommended to wash hands frequently, she said the 20-second ritual can be an opportunity to be mindful. Feel the soap and water, and be present in that moment.

Meditation can be another useful tool in maintaining mental health. She said “there is no right or wrong way to meditate.”

“Be still and comfortable with your own thoughts,” Weber-Curry said.

She recommended meditation apps such as Calm, Headspace, Intimind, and Liberate.

Lastly, some may solace in spiritual or religious communities.

Those in need of further care can make an appointment to meet with a licensed counselor by calling the parish Counseling Center at (225) 450-1158.

Weber-Curry said they serve all residents of Ascension Parish, and accept most major insurances and Medicaid. Those without insurance can pay on a sliding fee scale.

“Please do not allow an inability to pay for mental health or substance abuse services to prevent you from contacting us,” she said.

Parish clinics are located in Gonzales, at 1112-A S. E. Ascension Complex, and in Donaldsonville, at 419 Memorial Dr.

Those in immediate need can text “NAMI” to 741741 to reach a National Alliance of Mental Illness counselor.

Also, Louisiana Department of Health’s Office of Behavioral Health has established a hotline to help Louisianans cope, called “Keep Calm through COVID”. The number is (866) 310-7977.