Crushing Candy: Pandemic Mental Health Strategies and Beyond!

In Print Issues, Success by Kristy Menage Bernie

Crushing what? Candy? Isn’t that an app game that has taken over the world?! YES! And thank goodness for Candy Crush. Fellow DeWs, this was my ‘go to’ during the pandemic for mental relief and relaxation. It got me thinking…hmmm…what are we ‘doing’ to manage this pandemic? For once everyone in the world is experiencing what I have my entire life: no clue what will happen today, fear of the unknown and the lack of control. Thus, Candy Crush! I could take back some control and with skill (and luck too), I could see things moving forward, and I could identify patterns which resulted in successes and rewards.

As I look back at past issues of the DeW Life Magazine, there is a central theme, a pattern and it comes down to mental well-being. Until recently I thought my family was ‘unique’; that I was ‘unique’; when in fact my family, my experiences were more the ‘norm’. The pandemic, if nothing else, has changed our lives forever and, in particular, our mental well-being. Being a self- proclaimed ‘Pollyanna’, I am looking for solutions. Can we manage what experts agree is a looming mental health pandemic? YES we can!

Dentistry is positioned to destigmatize mental illness and more importantly, act as a first responder for those suffering from mental illnesses, and of equal importance, those who care for them. The pandemic spurred me forward to bring this topic front and center and I’d like to share some thoughts for the caretakers, they are at risk. The ripple effect of mental illnesses beyond those who live with these conditions is profound. On average it takes an individual living with mental illness 11 years to seek care. So…where does this place those of us who care for those people? Firmly in the chairside therapist role? Are there resources? Are we alone? Should we attempt to reinvent the wheel for mental wellness?

Are you the family therapist?

Let’s take a look at a feature from the AARP, a group who firmly acknowledges the issues we are facing regarding mental well-being. I’ve added my own life experiences to clarify the points and provide insight into how often caregivers become the chairside therapist! Here’s the list of amateur psychology mistakes…let’s crush some candy!

Mistake #1: Talking too much

In my case, I’d ask too many questions, I’d provide rationale as to why what was being said or felt was not based in reality. Instead of listening I would talk, talk, and talk. Or even worse, I’d disagree and try to prove them wrong. Who wants to hear all of that? When we are in crisis the last thing we need is someone going on and on about what they would have done or that what they are feeling is not ‘real’.

Instead: Listen more than you speak.

Experts agree, the best strategy (and yes, strategy is important here) is to simply listen, let the person in crisis talk. Acknowledge what you’ve heard and if in person, provide that critical touch! Repeat what’s been said and get ready for the ‘permission’ to speak, to offer comfort or advice. Most importantly restate how difficult this must be and that you’ve heard them loud and clear. Acknowledge the pain and perhaps a window of opportunity will open for you to offer more of your own personal experiences.

Mistake #2: Launching into ‘fix’ mode

Oh boy…ever the ‘fix it’ Queen! This one is difficult, we care about that person, and we want to help. However, this becomes another mark against what they are feeling. Feelings are…feelings! See Mistake #1! They are related. Let’s avoid “Don’t feel that way, tomorrow’s another day!” This is not helpful and only makes that person feel they are, well, losing their mind!

Instead: Ask permission to work together.

First and foremost, those in crisis probably know what they ‘should’ be doing. Offering solutions they’ve already thought about but just can’t do only reinforces their crisis. Instead ask “What does this look like for you?” “What do you want to do or see?” and “How can I help?” Once given permission to brainstorm then communication has become a 2-way street. We move to a collaborative mode, working together, vs. being the one to ‘fix it’.

Mistake #3: Talking over the phone

In light of the pandemic, we took exception with this tip. Not to mention many a caring family member are miles away. Talking on the phone is the main way I am able to support my family and yet this does not allow me to see what’s going on, a critical aspect in helping anyone in crisis.

Instead: Get together or at least talk on a video call.

As I did, many of us followed suit. We traveled during the pandemic to support those in crisis. For me I committed to being on the east coast 2-3 weeks at a time. Acknowledging experts’ advice, it takes more than a few days for those in crisis to feel SUPPORTED! As travel restrictions have eased, being in person with those in crisis is getting easier…and of course, we do have the technology otherwise!

Mistake #4: Trying to fill silence

My need to show and demonstrate support created the perfect storm in this error. See Mistake #1! When we listen, it’s not only okay to not respond, it’s more than likely what is needed. Wait until asked, otherwise…we may respond too quickly with information that is less than helpful.

Instead: Give space for contemplation.

This says it all, giving space, acknowledging the situation and avoiding the temptation to fix it or fill the silence with less than helpful dialogue. “I hear you” goes a long way in allowing for contemplation. I have found empathy key to providing support. Fill the silence with their own words instead!

Mistake #5: Judging their reality

This is probably my biggest error–proving them wrong leads to judgement and a total lack of empathy. It’s the most difficult and negates what the individual is experiencing. What I strive for now is to replace confusion with compassion!

Instead: Accept them where they are.

While challenging, validating their reality, even if it’s not mine, has helped tremendously. This can be tricky especially when someone is in total crisis which leads me to our final ‘bonus’ mistake, one of my own that I know is a common one…

BONUS Mistake #6: Keeping silent

For those of us who are involved with individuals experiencing mental health issues, we may lean towards keeping silent. We are unique, right? No one else is going through anything close! The reality is quite different and for me it took most of my 59-year life to acknowledge the mental health issues and related realities that have been a part of my family for as long as I can remember. As a child of the 1960’s mental health was not talked about nor acknowledged even in extreme situations. Bottom line… we are not alone!

Instead: Reach out, seek help, and find comfort from those in the same situation!

I wish as a child or even teenager I had reached out for help…and let’s face it, as an adult I still would not acknowledge my reality until a few years ago. This avoidance, shame, and guilt sets up a cavalcade of experiences and situations that not only harm but impact everyone directly and indirectly. Instead, today I’d like to suggest we intervene when we see those struggling… not only those in emotional crisis but those who care for them.

Crushing more Candy!

Candy Crush? OK, full disclosure: I am on level 9,680! I can ‘see’ the end of the game (I am keeping those programmers in business!) I’ve no doubt needed the ‘break’, however, as stated at the beginning of this feature, it got me thinking. Can dentistry make a difference? Are there strategies and resources available that can make the difference? A resounding YES!

Organized dentistry has responded and taken notice of the mental health issues we are facing. The American Dental Association has developed resources readily available at: Of particular interest is their posting of “The Ultimate Workplace Mental Health Toolkit” authored by the National Alliance on Mental Illness Chicago. This guide walks practices through a series of evaluations to determine the practice’s mental health knowledge, awareness, and readiness. And…we are now seeing more continuing education courses being offered on this topic. Not to mention our own DeW members who have led the way in mental well-being!

Whether we are individuals who thrive, live, or manage life with mental issues, or a family member/friend who cares for those in crisis, we are unique…in that we can make THE difference for mental well-being! Join us…let’s crush the mental health stigma…let’s crush some candy!