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Kendra Santiago

Kendra Santiago

If you have been keeping an eye on the news surrounding COVID-19, you may be hearing a lot about the mental health crisis that the United States is anticipating as a result. Transitions and changes are a challenge in general, but a global pandemic? That’s a whole other issue.

I’ve been wanting to write this article for a very long time. In hopes of leading by example, and hopefully inspire another person feel a little more normal about what they’re coping with, I’ve written this as a way to be transparent about my own mental health and break down barriers to others seeking help.

I deeply love my family, and before sharing this piece with anyone else, I had my husband read it. He too feels strongly about the importance of taking care of our mental health, and has allowed me to share a bit about his journey.

As I think back on being a new mom, I’m almost positive I had postpartum depression with both of my children. In fact, some days I feel like it’s still lingering. In my adult life, I have reached out to a counselor several times, almost always in alignment with a major life transition: breaking up with a boyfriend, graduating college, moving to Seattle, transitioning to a new career. It hasn’t always felt 100% comfortable to meet with a counselor, but I’ve always learned something more about who I am. For me, practicing a faith and carving out time for meditation are key to maintaining my sanity.

My husband, Rafael, is an Army Veteran who did two tours of duty in Iraq. After he served, we met while attending Oregon Tech in 2007. About two months into our relationship he was reactivated by the U.S. Army.

When he reported for duty he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He and I are very thankful that he was reactivated, because it led to this diagnosis.

Men are notorious for not being an advocate for their health — both physical and mental. While I’m sure it is not always easy, Rafael has sought out group therapy and mental health professionals to help him with PTSD over the past 13 years.

When we became parents in 2015, his anxiety disorder came to the forefront of our lives again. The stress of being a new parent stirred up a lot of things that he had never had to face before. One of the biggest memories that stands out is when he would have panic attacks at night when our newborn baby would cry. He was edgy, and had a short fuse.

The old adage “You’re never really ready to be a parent” is very true, but for my husband, he was struggling with things that he’d experienced in Iraq and during his upbringing. When our firstborn was about 4 months old, we had a very honest, calm conversation about what I saw going on with him. Thankfully, Rafael reached back out to the VA to start tele-counseling and found new therapies to help him heal and find a way to balance our new life.

Right now, amid the pandemic, water issues and protests, we certainly have had our moments of stress. When Governor Kate Brown issued the stay home order in March, Rafael and I really struggled to strike a balance with both of us working from home and parenting our kiddos. Going back to what I said earlier — stay at home parents have a much tougher job.

Now, work at home parents are having to make a major transition. If nothing else, we are resilient. As each of us think back on our lives and pinpoint some of the struggles we’ve faced, it becomes clear — no one has it easy, but by making self-care a priority, we can be better equipped to face them.

Please be honest about your challenges, it will move mountains in breaking the stigma around mental health. Whether you’re a parent, spouse, someone’s child, an employer, or coworker, please take a moment to ask someone how they’re doing today.

If you are struggling personally, reach out. Klamath Basin Behavioral Health offers a hotline 24/7/365 to anyone in our community looking to speak with someone. They can be reached at 541-883-1030.

— Kendra Santiago is PR and marketing manager for the Blue Zones Project in Klamath Falls.