Using virtual services for mental health during the pandemic
Reprinted from the Growing Up In a Digital World issue of Visions Journal, 2023, 18 (1), pp. 13-14
Hi. I’m Mikaela, and this is my COVID mental health story. I was diagnosed with my first three mental illnesses back in October 2016. I started taking medications for them, but I still didn’t feel like me. That constant feeling of not having control of myself stayed and progressively got worse throughout high school.
I didn’t know what to do. I joined a mental health school treatment program called the Adolescent Day Treatment Program (ADTP). ADTP combined therapy, school and recovery. During that time, with the consistency of ADTP therapists and other help they offered, including life skills, outings and youth activity support, my mental health got better and was more manageable.
After I finished the program I transferred schools to give me a new start. At first things were going well, but that only lasted so long. The stress from school and social situations made it difficult for me to maintain my mental health and coping skills. I would end up in the hospital and miss school because I couldn’t control myself.
COVID gets in the way
When the pandemic started, I was in my senior year of high school. I was already struggling mentally and any sense of normalcy was lost. The whole world changed. I made the decision to move in with my other parent. At first I was doing better. I stopped having nightmares and was around animals. When I started remote learning, that feeling of depression returned. All I could see was what I had just lost because of COVID: a prom experience, the grad events, getting a real graduation. I made some mistakes along the way after I stopped attending online classes. (I can say that now, as I self-reflect). As the pandemic went on, I like to say that I “de-progressed” and ended up in the hospital more frequently.
I knew there was something seriously wrong with me but I didn’t know what. My parent tried to help. They took me out of the house, got me a guinea pig named Ojo because he brought me joy and did all they could to assist me with my mental health. While Ojo motivated me to be well, still nothing was working. I admit I was not on my medication properly, and that is my fault.
In 2021 things took a turn for the worse. In less than four months I was admitted into the hospital five times. Then, on March 29, 2021, my life completely changed. My parent said it was like someone else had taken me over, and I said and did things that were completely outside my personality. It was the worst incident that had ever happened to me. My blackout was not like others I had experienced before. I was admitted to the hospital again, but this wasn’t like the previous times.
When I was finally me again, I found out that I had been diagnosed with dissociative identity disorder and schizophrenia. I was glad that I finally got some answers—not only for me, but for my family. I thought this was going to be like most trips: I would stay in the hospital for a few days and get my meds adjusted, since now we knew what was going on, then I would go home. I was completely wrong. I was extremely upset, as my nineteenth birthday was coming up and I wanted to have fun. Instead of going behind my parents’ back and doing dumb stuff on my birthday, I was in the psych ward. I had hit rock bottom. All sense of freedom was lost. I was under constant supervision from others.
Virtual help brings hope
I left the hospital on May 6, 2021, but I didn’t go back to the real world yet. I went to a mental health recovery home. During my time there, I started taking control of getting help for myself. I couldn’t leave for therapy, so I would do it virtually. I’m an introvert and it was more adaptable to my personality. I had my technology back and was able to communicate with people. I officially rejoined the world again on July 2, 2021. Simple things that I had once taken for granted, like eating what I wanted and taking walks alone, I suddenly appreciated a lot more.
I still use virtual mental health services. I have a way to get help while being in an environment that’s most comfortable for me. I wake up each morning and one of my first thoughts is I’m happy to be alive. That’s not something I thought I would ever feel again. There are still days I struggle, but that is expected. Virtual mental health services are a way I can talk things out when I’m not doing well and get an outsider's perspective on what to do.
I also recently completed an anxiety group therapy course through Foundry Virtual BC and have seen huge growth from that. I’m also actively involved in LGBTQ+ groups and will definitely participate in other groups through Foundry (foundrybc.ca) over the next year.
Mental health is a sickness. Nobody should judge you for it. If someone has asthma or knee issues, nobody judges them for it because it’s not something they can control. Why is there so much judgment and stigma about mental health? It’s not something people can control either. I am able to manage my mental health with medication and therapy, but I’m not perfect, I never will be and I’m OK with that now. I have good days, I have days that I am just OK, and then I have not-so-good days. I have not been in the hospital for over a year, and I am very grateful for that.
I’m thankful to my family members, who have stuck by my side, my friends, who have given me a second chance, and my job and my bosses, who make my work environment such a positive place. To anyone who is struggling: YOU ARE NOT ALONE. We all have hard times—trust me, I know. I’m grateful to the virtual mental health services that I’ve been able to access. If you feel like you are struggling, I encourage you to reach out to virtual services. No matter where you are, there is a way to get help.
About the author
Mikaela is a 20-year-old who is passionate about animals, film, music, makeup and mental health. In her free time she loves to listen to and collect Taylor Swift vinyl, spend time with her animals, family and friends and participate in mental health groups. Mikaela lives in the Fraser Valley