By Jasmine Stole Weiss
Last year, as the pandemic’s grip on the globe tightened, more Guam residents sought out the Guam Behavioral Health and Wellness Center’s crisis hotline.
The government of Guam regularly promoted the hotline, reaching out to “those feeling anxious, stressed, overwhelmed” and needing to talk to someone.
GBHWC estimated it fielded an average of 15 calls a month before the pandemic. During March 2020 and September 2020, the crisis hotline received an average of 15 to 25 calls per day.
Nationwide, anxiety and symptoms of depression spiked during the pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control in April published its study which found adults with recent symptoms increased from 36.4 percent to 41.5 percent.
Symptoms of anxiety include having a sense of impending danger or doom, feeling nervous, restless or tense, rapid breathing, having trouble sleeping and difficulty controlling worrying.
Anxiety that persists for at least six months can be diagnosed as general anxiety disorder, according to Mao Beckett, a licensed clinical social worker and therapist currently on Guam.
Gastrointestinal issues can also be a symptom of anxiety, Beckett said.
“Anxiety kind of gets a bad rap. And we're like, oh, my gosh, we don't want to have these feelings. We don't want to feel nervous. But anxiety is actually a very natural response that keeps us alive,” said Beckett, who owns Reset and Resilient Wellness.
Beckett said she works with people to manage those feelings, and recognize and examine them.
Originally from Boston, Beckett’s husband is a mental health technician at Andersen Air Force Base and they’re stationed on island. Beckett, the child of immigrants from Cambodia, said she grew up in an inner-city. She joined the U.S. Air Force serving in the public health field, of preventive medicine. Her experiences led her to social work.
“A driving force for me was being the person to provide hope,” Beckett said.
She now works with clients on Guam and in Massachusetts and Hawaii. providing therapy for individuals, families and couples.
“I never wanted to be a fixer and healer, because that's not my place to fix or heal people. They have that within themselves. I wanted to be the person to sit with them and let them know—there's a way out,” she said.
Beckett urges people who have symptoms of anxiety to get outside help “I would definitely recommend seeing someone who is a professional to help support you in that journey of learning what anxiety is, and how to get out of it. Because what happens with mental health disorders… it's hard to get out of yourself when it becomes that intense,” Beckett said.
With her clients, Beckett said she lets them know the work they will do in therapy will be akin to rewiring their brains, which is not easy and not immediate but will have transformative, long-term, positive effects.
“We're rewiring how you respond to situations, how you think about situations,” she said. “Not that what you're doing is wrong. It's just not helpful anymore. So that's why it's important to have that professional support because they're trained to do that.”
Beckett said her job is to provide people with the tools they need. “My job is not to have a job anymore,” she said.
The GBHWC crisis hotline can also be a starting place for residents. The agency can steer callers to other agencies that can help.
Locally, mental illness is tracked alongside deaths-by-suicide data.
Guam’s State Epidemiological outcomes workgroup reported that cumulative data from 2010 to 2020 showed that 14 percent of people who have died by suicide had a history of previous mental illness. In 2020, 27.5 percent of people who died by suicide had a history of prior mental illness. Forty people died by suicide last year, an increase over 31 in 2019.
In the nation, suicides decreased last year.
“This trend was not seen in Guam and the suicide rate increased significantly for the island,” the workgroup report stated.