One of the major impacts of the pandemic often overlooked is the toll that COVID-19 can have on our mental health. For those who become severely ill from coronavirus, or those who have lost a loved one to the disease, strong negative emotions like fear, sadness, anger, and frustration are common. But even if you are not directly impacted by illness from coronavirus, the sudden, disruptive lifestyle changes we’ve had to make as a result of COVID-19 can bring emotional and mental anguish. The long periods of home isolation, interrupted routines, required social distancing, and feelings of uncertainty are all draining on our mental health. In short, we are all pretty stressed right now. Emily Saso, a UEI College student in Stockton, wants to make sure that people are talking about mental health and connecting with the resources they might need during the pandemic.
Emily is a trained volunteer for the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI) and regularly hosts “In Our Own Voice” presentations that provide participants with the personal perspective of mental health from people who have lived through their own struggles to begin recovery. It’s something she has done well before the pandemic hit, usually at in-person events that are now virtual until the pandemic subsides.
The Road to Recovery
“The presentations are designed to help change attitudes, assumptions and ideas for people who are struggling with mental health, and break down the stigma of not only asking for help, but talking to others about what you’re going through,” Emily said. “Sharing my story is helping others.”
The 37-year-old has been through a lot on her road to mental health recovery. Emily and her sister were born in Stockton and spent time in the foster care system as young children. When she was about 11 years old, she began engaging in self harm. “I knew something was wrong but didn’t know how to even bring it up with anyone,” she said. “My adopted family didn’t really understand mental illness; if they had, things might have been different for me. That is a major reason why I share my story today – so that others will understand.”
Emily was hospitalized several times over the years. At one point, she was homeless. “I was in and out of different facilities and care homes. I was just trying to figure myself out. I was going through different programs to help myself get better,” she said.
Eventually Emily found care at a group facility in Stockton where she got the right combination of treatment and medication. It was that experience that connected her with NAMI.
“My work with NAMI has been really rewarding. I have been able to develop deep coping skills that I want to share with others through my work with them,” Emily said.
Enrolling at UEI College
Another milestone in her recovery has been enrolling in the Business Office Administration Program (BOA Program) at UEI College in Stockton.
“Everybody is cool at UEI. It is a wonderfully positive environment to be in. The instructors are really awesome and you can tell they really want you to succeed,” she said.
“Since Emily started at UEI she has grown and become a different person. She faced challenges early on with trying to find balance with school and home, but she was able to finally find the purpose and drive to make things happen for herself,” said Sandra Gracia, Executive Director at UEI Stockton. “It has been amazing to watch this transformation in her in such a short period of time.”
Emily now serves as a mentor to other students and is a student ambassador. She is on track to graduate from the BOA in May 2021.
“Emily is a true inspiration to everyone around her. She is a hard-working student and determined to graduate. I’m proud to be her instructor. And very proud of her,” said Aisha Abercrombie, BOA Instructor.
Emily’s advice to everyone, especially during the challenging times that COVID-19 has brought upon us, is to remember that we are all in this together and there is help available.
“You’re not alone. Everyone is going through something challenging at some point in their lives. With the coronavirus, we are all in it together. If you’re struggling with mental health, do whatever you can to get the care that you need,” she said.
“Nobody is perfect and you can always keep trying no matter who you are or where you are from. You can do anything you want if you just stick to it and get the help you need. Don’t be afraid to get help. You don’t have to be afraid. You don’t have to hide it. Don’t be ashamed that you are getting the help that you need,” she said.
To learn more about NAMI and the mental health resources they have available visit www.nami.org.