Interview with Skylar Chew on Mental Health
This interview is the fifth in our five-part Hope in Darkness: Journeying Through Mental Illness series for the months of July & August. Learn more about the series here.
Skylar Chew is a Licensed Social Worker (LSW) and School-Based Mental Health Therapist for the Children’s Home of Cincinnati. She has served as a Mental Health Therapist for Catholic Charities of Southwestern Ohio and a Mental Health Specialist for the Lindner Center of Hope, an in-patient psychiatric treatment center. Skylar has also worked with survivors of sex trafficking in Greece, homeless families in Boston, and unaccompanied refugee children from the Middle East on the Greek island of Lesvos. She received a Bachelor or Science in Psychology from Ball State University and a Master of Science in Social Work (MSW) from Boston College. She has a concentration in global social work and a certificate in trauma studies, and she is trained in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Seven Challenges, a specialized treatment model for adolescent drug and alcohol recovery. Outside of work, Skylar enjoys running, drinking coffee, traveling, baking muffins, reading, staying involved in her local parish, and discovering all of the hidden gems in Cincinnati!
What are anxiety and depression?
Anxiety and depression are broad terms that describe a variety of physiological and psychological responses. It’s normal for everyone to experience some anxiety and depression in life, like feeling anxious before giving a speech or feeling depressed after a breakup. But, for some people anxiety and/or depression can cause significant distress and interfere with daily life.
Anxiety and depression can look different from person to person (i.e., depression may cause insomnia in some people while causing hypersomnia in others). However, anxiety and depression are typically associated with the following symptoms:
Anxiety Symptoms: Increased heart rate, rapid breathing, nausea, headaches, muscle tension, chest pressure, sweating, shaking, dizziness, insomnia, gastrointestinal (GI) issues, feelings of panic and impending doom, restlessness or being on edge, excessive worrying, rapid thoughts, inability to control worrying, forgetfulness, trouble concentrating, and avoiding fearful situations or anxiety triggers.
Depression Symptoms: Insomnia or hypersomnia (not sleeping enough), low energy, low motivation, headaches, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, poor appetite or overeating, trouble concentrating, impairments in memory, feelings of sadness, irritability, tearfulness, worthlessness, and/or hopelessness, overly negative thinking patterns, excessive guilt, low self-esteem or self-worth, and thoughts of death, self-harm, suicide, or suicide attempts.
How might depression look different from sadness? How does stress differ from anxiety?
Depression is more encompassing than sadness. Everyone experiences feelings of sadness. They can come and go quickly, and they’re usually triggered by a specific person or event. Feeling sad might cause insomnia or loss of appetite, which last only a day or so. People experiencing sadness can still find pleasure in other enjoyable activities and can maintain general functioning.
Depression, on the other hand, tends to hang around a lot longer (nearly every day, for most of the day, for at least two weeks), does not need to have an identifiable trigger, and it interferes with relationships, work, school, and enjoying everyday activities. People with depression experience more hopelessness, shame, and/or worthlessness compared to temporary guilt, embarrassment, or regret over a specific event. Additionally, sadness doesn’t elicit self-harming behaviors, suicidal thoughts, or suicidal attempts.
Stress and anxiety are often used interchangeably. The main difference between the two is that stress is usually triggered by external pressures, such as taking a test or even a positive event like getting married. Some people can also live in a state of chronic stress where they’re consistently overwhelmed by external factors, like living in a high-crime community, being homeless, and living in poverty. Stress is usually relieved when the external pressures subside.
Anxiety is a response to stress that’s triggered by something internal. It’s usually associated with worry, fear, or feelings of dread. Anxiety can occur even when there’s not an external threat and persists when a threat, worry, or fear has passed. Those with severe and persistent anxiety may meet criteria for an anxiety disorder.
What are some common misconceptions about mental illness?
Mental illness is not real or as serious as physical illness. Just like physical illness, mental illness is caused by both biological and environmental factors that can affect brain chemistry and physical functioning. In fact, mental illness can be just as debilitating as physical illness as it’s a primary cause of serious medical issues, including heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes.
People who go to a therapist must be weak, have a mental illness or have serious problems. Everyone goes through times, and it’s actually strong people who seek help when it becomes too much. People go to the doctor for physical illness, go to a nutritionist for diet advice, go to a priest for spiritual help, and go to a lawyer for legal advice. Those who want to improve their mental health should not be deemed any different from those seeking help from professionals in other areas. In fact, I think everyone could benefit from seeing a therapist.
Mental illness can be overcome by willpower or prayer. Because mental illness isn’t a choice, people with depression or anxiety can’t just “cheer up” or “calm down” at will. Just like physical illness cannot be willed away, neither can mental illness. While prayer is important, you wouldn’t tell a person with serious physical illness to just relax and pray; you would send them to the doctor or emergency room.
As Catholics, we learn a lot about taking care of our hearts and spirits. How can we also take care of our minds?
Take care of your body. Since our minds and bodies are inextricably connected, it is vital to first take care of our bodies through regular physical exercise, healthy eating, moderate use of alcohol and caffeine, consistent sleep, regular physical check-ups, and refraining from drugs and tobacco. You absolutely can’t have a healthy mind without a healthy body.
Practice mindfulness. In our fast and tech-driven world, it’s important to cultivate a daily mindfulness practice. There are all kinds of books, apps, and resources on mindfulness to help you get started. Some typical mindfulness activities include prayer, meditation, journaling, drawing [and] slow walks. Our minds need a break from busyness and noise just like our bodies do.
Surround yourself with people who lift you up. You’ve heard the phrase, “you are what you eat,” but I will expand that to, “you are what you expose yourself to.” Surround yourself with positive and fulfilling social relationships. Walk away from gossip. Monitor your consumption of social media, TV, and the news. There are so many implicit messages made to make us feel less than we are. A good question to ask yourself is, “Do I feel better or worse after using social media, watching a TV show, or reading a news article?”
Engage in activities to help you learn and grow. Just like our physical muscles, our minds must consistently be challenged. Keep your mind active and strong by joining a book club, trying a new recipe, gardening, or doing crossword puzzles.
Give back. Helping those in need and engaging in small acts of kindness allows us to gain a healthier perspective of our problems, improve our self-esteem, and increase our sense of belonging. Whether it’s walking dogs at an animal shelter, writing encouraging notes, or delivering a meal to a friend, giving back makes us happier.
Have fun! Especially as Catholic women, we can by overly scrupulous, but it’s essential to enjoy God’s gift of life. Whenever you find yourself stressed or down, it might be time to have some fun with friends or doing things you enjoy.
What advice would you give to women who think they might be struggling with anxiety, depression or other mental illness?
If you are asking yourself if your anxiety or depression symptoms are a sign of something more serious, don’t be afraid to seek an evaluation. Most people wait years before seeking help, at which point their symptoms have made See a medical professional or therapist will help determine if your symptoms can abate with some therapy, lifestyle changes, or some medication.
Also, don’t be afraid to get a second or third opinion. Many people visit multiple therapists before finding the right one. Find someone you feel comfortable with and can connect with.
Who can we contact for help?
Ask your family and friends for suggestions. Personal recommendations and referrals are the best way to find a therapist you will connect with. Your local priest or parish might also have connections with faith-based counselors in the area.
Psychologytoday.com: A website that helps locate a therapist in your area that accepts your insurance.
Talkspace: An online/mobile therapy company with fully licensed therapists if physically getting to therapy is difficult for you.
Catholiccounselors.com: A faith-based resource that provides telephone counseling with Catholic counselors.
Chat line/online support for any crisis: Text 4Hope to 741741
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-272-8255 (Press 1)
In the event of any mental health emergency, call 911 or contact your local mobile crisis unit.