Tag Archives: mental health awareness

Hot in Here: heat waves and mental health

The extreme heat that much of the country is experiencing this summer has significant impacts on mental health alongside serious physical health impacts. Some groups, including people with pre-existing mental health conditions, are especially vulnerable.

Extreme heat has been associated with a range of mental health impacts in extensive research over many years, including increases in irritability, anxiety, impulsivity, frustration, symptoms of depression, uptick in psychotic symptoms, and an increase in suicide. It can also affect behavior, contributing to increased aggression, incidence of domestic violence, and increased use of alcohol or other substances to cope with stress. Rates of homicide, physical conflict, and sexual assault go up during heat waves. Learn more: Packing the Heat

Research has also linked high temperatures to problems with memory, attention and reaction time. Sleep difficulties associated with extreme heat can contribute to and exacerbate mental health symptoms. Heat makes us sluggish. Not surprisingly, high heat countries along the equator often have a business model where everything shuts down during the hottest part of the day, and subsequently stay open later into the evening.

It is also easy to miss emotional and psychological turmoil that does not necessarily rise to the clinical level. Even when these experiences don’t lead to an official mental health or diagnosis, they influence people’s well-being. Writ large, temperature spikes can send a shockwave of angst through multiple households. For example, the stressed parent trying to stay patient with a screaming and bored toddler in an overheated house during a summer of heat waves. People with older or vulnerable companion animals who must be monitored because heat can be lethal. Or a senior who feels trapped and scared in the midst of record-high temperatures. As Earth gets hotter and human populations skew older, medical and cognitive problems and heat-related fatalities among older adults are expected to grow. Learn more: The Effects on Heat on Older Adults.

Heat: It’s knocking at the door, it’s ringing the bell. Ignoring it is not a great choice.

What is mental health?

On the last day of #mentalhealthawarenessmonth2022

I am finally writing about one of the most profound personal and professional experiences I have had in my field. It took me a while to unpack this enough to say a bit.

#EmboldenPsychology was founded on the principles of culturally competent practice, DEI as a value system, and the belief, after 20 years of work in the field of mental health and clinical psychology that #mentalhealthisforall.

These values were severely tested during the last 2+ years, during which my company offered mental health services at little or no cost to first responders and healthcare professionals, the restaurant industry which was reeling, and support for the huge challenges facing students and parents. Need far outweighed resources.
I termed the Pandemic the ultimate compassion project: How could we help each other get through, when small businesses were boarding up, financial hardship was rampant, the health system was beyond capacity, and the summer of 2020 brought the highest level of clinical depression ever recorded in the United States since they started keeping records. I had incredible volunteers, community support, dear friends, colleagues, and peers who were there.

Even with all this, my belief systems were taken by the shoulders and shaken gently but firmly this past year. In February 2022, I was sought out by social workers and advisors working at two private schools in the DMV and asked to work with several STEM students; girls who had been evacuated from Afghanistan in August 2021, when the Taliban essentially closed down their state-of-the-art all-female boarding school in Kabul. After a nightmare journey on foot to the airport with a single backpack and with no notice or time for goodbyes to family, they were evacuated from their country of birth by US military aircraft. Education as a life and death decision.

I am human, and was quite overwhelmed with my schedule and commitments. These determined and incredibly caring schools pinged me every day for a week, and I finally agreed to speak with them to see what I could possibly offer in the face of a human rights crisis. I was known for work with refugees and new immigrants, my love for STEM, and deep interest in multicultural mental health projects.

I have no regrets about my decision to proceed forward with this endeavor, because since that time, I have been able to counsel some of the bravest, sweetest, smartest, most down to earth girls in the world. Although they sacrificed so much for education and their personal and family safety, they manifest joy, resolve, and just every day giggliness.

Certainly, we have sessions that are painfully detailed, harrowing, about the traumas they have faced. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone so brave as these young women. But we also discuss hairstyles, academic goals, friendship, how cool horses are, college, soccer, my terrible accent when I’m speaking Pashto, fave foods, henna, and Bollywood. I have some new recipes and songs under my belt.

Together, we also planned and helped implement psycho-educational programs at their schools about Afghan culture, Ramadan, and of course, delicious world cuisine. I learned slang in Dari, Farsi, and Pashto. The crisis in Ukraine struck close to their hearts, particularly the hundreds of thousands of refugees fleeing their homes, and we spent several sessions processing what that means.

  • Mental health is flexibility. Of body and mind.
  • Mental health is finding joy even when everything seemingly sucks.
  • Mental health is curiosity, academic and personal.
  • Mental health is crying, and then still getting on with things.
  • Mental health is caring about others in the world who are suffering.
  • Mental health is interacting with teachers, students, customs, cuisines, and a psychologist you had never met with grace, humor, and openness.
  • Mental health is switching between languages, at a moment’s notice.

Clearly, mental health is an essential component in all lives. We don’t need a month, we need 24/7 everywhere for mental health awareness. I have great teachers.

Also see: https://www.sola-afghanistan.org/

The Late Night Call

For many of us in psychology/mental health, when the phone rings or a text pings late night, there is an immediate frisson of worry and concern. It’s a cold shiver in your spine. Bad news is going down. I work with a lot of young people, teens through 30s, and I am readily accessible most of the time. No one abuses this. When people call you late at night, it’s usually not to say hello.

One of my mentors is a top authority in suicide research in the world. When I asked him, as a doctoral student, why he got into this painful area where he has done so much to help, he said we pursue what we fear. It might seem counterintuitive but there is no greater courage than facing the fears we have by helping others with theirs.

I started my own company several years ago after being Clinical Director elsewhere because I believe that mental health is for all. It is often excluded for many people because of financial constraints, stigma, lack of cultural competence, lack of hours to actually go see someone, and a potentially ‘authoritative’ relationship that is anathema to many.

I will tell you this.
NO doctor or therapist can do anything without their team. The team is: found or biological family or parents, other medical providers, friends and social supports of the person that you are working for and with, chosen spiritual beliefs, community, teachers (as burdened as they are are, they are very often the person that young people turn to), genuine Internet connections, ancestry/culture, companion animals, and fostering self-compassion relentlessly.

We are always so shocked and horrified to hear about someone taking their life. But when most ask people how they’re doing, they expect to hear ‘fine’.

We need to facilitate conversation where somebody can say they feel absolutely lousy. It’s been a terrible day. Right now, people at your job, your neighborhood, your home, feel absolutely lousy.  They don’t know what to do. We need dialogue about mental health so it becomes a natural thing.

It takes a village, the most trite and true statement.

The Psychological Importance of Juneteenth

Juneteenth not only celebrates the freedom of Black Americans from slavery, but it also is a time when achievements are noted and continuous self-development is encouraged.

People dress with pride to show spirit, sometimes in African garments. This day of national pride is celebrated with food, music, games, and other activities to promote cultural awareness and community cohesiveness. Memories are shared for passing down to generations.

Black Mental Health and Juneteenth
From the clinical psychology research on Black mental health: (1) messages focused on instilling a sense of pride and learning about the history of one’s racial group (i.e., cultural socialization); and (2) messages focused on increasing youth’s awareness of racial discrimination and skills to manage it (i.e., preparation for bias) are BOTH powerful psychologically.

Overall, cultural socialization messages are associated with positive psychological and academic outcomes for youth. Preparation for bias messages are sometimes linked with positive outcomes, but there are mixed findings indicating these messages in isolation may not be consistently helpful for youth. One reason for these mixed findings may be because youth need a combination of messages that prepare them for racial discrimination along with messages that instill racial self esteem and pride. For example, if parents only provide messages about racial bias without messages focused on pride, it may lead youth to feel worried or hopeless. A combination of racial pride and knowledge and conversations about racial bias led to stronger mental health outcomes.
(For a great review on the research, see  Umaña-Taylor & Hill, Journal of Marriage and Family, 2020).

Additional ways to celebrate Juneteenth:
Vote.
Every time, every election.

Buy Black.
By buying black, people are also assisting in strengthening local economies and positive effects like the creation of more jobs.

Representation.
Promote Black images and experiences in advertising, social media, movies and shows, podcasts, and webinars.

Share resources.
Share information about housing, job opportunities, banking and loans, medical resources and clinics, agencies, and educational opportunities.

Intergenerational conversations.
Build relationships and communication between younger and older adults.

Destigmatize mental health.
Black people are far less likely to seek mental health care. Statistics show that about 25% of Black Americans seek mental health care, compared to 40% of white Americans. Unequal access to health care is one major contributor to this disparity. The lack of cultural sensitivity by health care professionals, feeling marginalized, a history of exploitation by the medical field, the reliance on family, community, and spiritual support instead of medical or psychiatric treatment are others.

Culturally responsive mental health treatment is one way of addressing the disparities in psychological wellbeing in the Black community. Finding and sharing information about culturally informed and responsive mental health professionals and agencies is vital. Also see Racial Trauma and Mental Health.

Strengthen Community.
Conversation around what people can do together that they cannot do apart should be mindful, intentional and strategic.

What is Mental Health?

Foundations of Wellbeing
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I am frequently asked by interviewers and websites about what defines mental health.

I believe there are seven interrelated foundations that underlie mental health: Physical, Intellectual, Environmental, Vocational, Social, Emotional, and Spiritual health.

Physical Wellbeing
Move More. Eat Better.
This dimension of wellbeing focuses on practicing healthy daily habits. It is important for building strength, flexibility, and endurance. Many of us have a genetic loading for chronic health conditions, including pre-diabetes, high blood pressure, or cholesterol. Starting early with self-care makes a huge difference. When it comes to exercise, variety and individual preferences are key. The biggest variable: Consistency.

Intellectual Wellbeing
Boost your Brain.
An active and open mind (mental flexibility) leads to a life filled with passion and purpose. To engage in a variety of creative and stimulating activities is ideal, helping to keep your mind sharp and your brain healthy and happy. In fact, when a patient suffers a brain injury or trauma, I prescribe a regimen of word and strategy games, reading, art, trying new recipes, and other activities to stimulate our juices. You can also challenge your brain with a thought-provoking seminar or class, learning a new language, or engaging in interpersonal topical activities, such as joining a photography club or reading group.

Environmental Wellbeing
Love the Earth.
Help the planet and bring a sense of accomplishment and wellbeing to your own life. Have you asked how your daily habits can affect the world around you in a positive way? One environmentalist, my mother, Salma Siddique, I have worked with in this area, cultivates small personal and family habits that have a cumulative affect on our niches in this world; not wasting resources, recycling, sharing with neighbors and community all protect our planet and contribute to our collective mental health.

Be in Nature.
From going for a daily walk, to raising house plants as green babies, to spending time with companion animals, nature is good for our mental health.
Have a personal environment that resonates.

Whether it’s an apartment, house, garden, office, or even a single room, create a space that is soothing and rejuvenating.

Vocational Wellbeing
Live and Work with Purpose.
This aspect of wellbeing focuses on enriching your life and that of others by sharing your special gifts, skills, and talents. Whether through work, your craft, or volunteering, you can make a positive impact and reap the documented health benefits of adding purpose to your life.

Social Wellbeing
Connect with Others.
Personal connections contribute to a long and fulfilling life. When you nurture relationships with family and friends, you create healthy support networks that I call a scaffolding for good and bad times.

Sustain caring relationships.
Humans are social creatures, and having ongoing meaningful relationships is crucial for mental health. Be intentional about regularly FaceTiming,  texting, or Zooming with your close friends and family. You don’t even need to talk explicitly about personal problems. You can connect deeply on anything—from your week at work to a fantasy trip or home project you are planning. Research is unequivocal that a not-so-secret path to a long and healthy life is through human attachments.

Connect with Self.
You also have a relationship with yourself, your most important connection.Celebrate your self-image. Real confidence is being true to yourself and recognizing your strengths and vulnerabilities. Give yourself space for those moments and remember you’re a unique, multidimensional person. Self-image affects every aspect of well-being.

Spiritual Wellbeing
Nourish your Soul.
Is your mind at peace? A set of core beliefs or values that shape you and how you live your life often creates harmony. Personal prayer, meditation, volunteering for those in need all contribute to a positive mental health.

Emotional Wellbeing
Incorporate stress-free activities.
Practicing relaxing activities such as yoga, meditation, or Tai Chi can serve as powerful tools to diminish stress and regulate emotions.

Decrease screen time.
Unplug from work, social media, web surfing, and anything that may be distracting you from being centered.

Write.
From Journaling, to poetry and creative writing, to just keeping a list of wins and losses for the week, writing helps you understand and ventilate emotions.

Love.
Surround yourself with positive people who bring out the best in you, encourage you, believe in you, and occasionally scrape you off the floor when needed.

Be kind to others.
Volunteering and community service can be the most powerful feel-good actions.
Promote knowledge and safety.

Microaggressions, racism, financial hardship, vicarious trauma from images on social media and screens, and an inability to access resources can create a pervasive state of internal danger and emotional dysregulation.

9 Myths About Mental Illness

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. Let’s start off with some important myth-busting.

Myth: Suffering from mental illness is uncommon.
Mental illness is probably more common than you think. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, more than one in five U.S. adults lives with a mental illness. Chances are you know or are somehow connected to someone suffering from a mental illness and may not even know.

Myth: Mental illnesses are not “true” medical conditions
There is plenty of research and empirical evidence that suggest that many, if not most, behavioral health issues involve chemical imbalances in the brain Much like medical conditions, there are often underlying biological causes and/or a genetic predisposition that account for illness. Importantly, chronic stressors including poverty, racism, abuse, and trauma significantly increase vulnerability for mental disorders.

Myth: People suffering from mental illness are more likely to commit a crime or engage in violent behavior. People suffering from mental illness are no more likely to commit violence than anyone else. In fact, studies show that people with mental health conditions are much more likely to be the victim of a violent crime than those in the general population.

Myth: Therapy isn’t necessary for people on medication
Therapy and other forms of self-care are usually an important part of a person’s treatment. All current best practice models indicate that use of pharmacological methods along with clinical/supportive interventions is the most successful approach in helping individuals on their paths to recovery
.
Myth: There is one best answer or treatment for mental illnesses.
Everyone’s situation is different, so treatment methods should be discussed and individualized with a qualified professional. There is no cure-all.

Myth: You can will away your mental illness with positive thought
Though having a positive outlook and belief in one’s recovery is important, behavioral health conditions cannot be “willed away.” People sometimes have the idea that issues like anxiety or depression are all in someone’s head and can be “shaken off,” but the reality is that recovery requires the help of evidence-based interventions, self-care, and social/community support.

Myth: Mental illness is a personal weakness
People do not choose to live with behavioral health issues, and there are a variety of factors involved their development. Stigma and shame are still very much a part of diagnosis of mental disorders and seeking help. Treat struggling people with dignity, and become an advocate for awareness in your community.

Myth: Keeping a job or having a social life is too stressful for individuals with mental illnesses. Those with mental illnesses are no different than your average employee. They are just as productive. And having a job and sense of community is actually beneficial to those living with a mental health issue. It provides structure and a sense of personal purpose.

Myth: Mental health professionals (psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, psychiatric nurses, marriage and family counselors, etc.) make a ton of money off of people suffering from these disorders, and want to keep them in treatment as long as possible. Mental health care is often the lowest paying, longest work day among the healthcare professions. The majority of behavioral healthcare and related professionals work in this area because they want to, not because of the pay. For every hour that they spend with a client, there are at least two hours of paperwork, documentation, communication with other professionals, and follow up.

Men and mental health

In my practice, the majority of my clients are male. Overall, three times as many men as women die by suicide, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) comprehensive report from 2018. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention also cited 2018 data, similarly noting that in that year alone, men died by suicide three and a half times more often than women in the United States.

Mental Health America, a community-based nonprofit, collected data suggesting that more than 6 million men in the U.S. experience symptoms of depression each year, and more than 3 million experience an anxiety disorder. Despite these figures, the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) reported that men are much less likely than women to have received formal mental health support.

In a study from Canada, published in the Community Mental Health Journal, in 2016, more than one-third of the participants in the study admitted to holding stigmatizing beliefs about mental health issues in men. Significantly more male than female respondents said that they would feel embarrassed about seeking formal treatment for depression.

BIPOC men face additional challenges when it comes to looking after their mental health. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), in the U.S., Black and Latinx men are six times more likely to be murdered than their white peers. Indigenous American men are the demographic most likely to attempt suicide in this country and Black men are most likely to experience incarceration, based on statistics gathered by the American Psychological Association. The consequences of these disparities on the mental health of people of color and of diverse ethnic and racial backgrounds is exponentially challenging.

Depression symptoms often manifest differently in men than women, perhaps based on these disparities. Some men with depression hide their emotions, and may seem to be angry, irritable, or aggressive, while many women may seem overtly sad or express sadness verbally.

For men, some symptoms of depression are physiological, such as a racing heart, digestive issues, muscle tension, bodily aches and pains, or headaches, and men are more likely to see their doctor about physical symptoms than emotional symptoms. Additionally, self-medicating with alcohol and other substances can be a common symptom of depression among men and that this can exacerbate mental health problems and increase the risk of developing other health conditions.

It is not easy for men to be open with others about mental health struggles. In fact, many of the male patients that I see have never spoken about their struggles until they come to my office, often not until they have experienced dire difficulties. Often, their pain is palpable.

As a mental health community, and as a society, we have to teach men to not mask their emotions. Instead, we need to encourage men to speak up, not man up. Talking saves lives; let’s normalize mental health.
(statistics from the American Psychological Association and NIMH). 

Some thoughts for Labor Day on Emotional Labor

Happy Labor Day
Emotional labor is the capacity to assist others in times of emotional difficulty. It’s when somebody in your life says I am having a sh*t day. And your willingness to say, I am here.

I am here. There are three no more powerful words in this world.

Asking for consent for emotional labor, even from people with whom you have a long-standing relationship should be common practice. Just like intimate activity, it’s not OK to text, DM, call, email someone with your stuff, without their consent. I have actually worked out rules of timing with my closest circle as to when it’s OK to call, text, email, and when it’s not. This is crucial.

Ask: May I ask you something. Do you have a moment. When can we talk. Is this a good time for you.

Emotional labor applies when, say, a restaurant server is told by their manager to “put on a smile” to serve a rude customer. As you may know, I teach mental health seminars for the restaurant and bar industry. The customer is not always right. You don’t ever have to be taken advantage of.

Whether it’s a close friend, family member, employee, employer, client, or customer, emotional labor is the work that we choose to do to help someone else. It’s work. Emotionally and psychologically. It requires consent and willingness. It’s a labor of love.

Happy Labor Day y’all.

Mental health and Corona

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, nearly one in five of U.S. adults (47 million) reported having a mental illness in the past year, and over 11 million had a serious mental illness, which frequently results in functional impairment and limits life activities. Please remember that these are only the reported numbers, because many people do not seek help or endorse symptoms.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting economic recession have negatively affected many people’s mental health and created new barriers for people already suffering from mental illness and substance use disorders, who were previously substantial in number. In polls conducted in mid-July, 53% of adults in the United States reported that their mental health has been negatively impacted due to worry and stress over the coronavirus. This is significantly higher than the 32% reported in March. Many adults are also reporting specific negative impacts on their mental health and wellbeing, such as difficulty sleeping (36%) or eating (32%), increases in alcohol consumption or substance use (12%), and worsening chronic conditions (12%), due to worry and stress over the coronavirus. As the pandemic wears on, ongoing and necessary public health measures expose many people to experiencing situations linked to poor mental health outcomes, such as isolation, health worries, evictions, and job loss.

Some takeaways:
A broad body of research links social isolation and loneliness to poor mental health, and data from late March shows that significantly higher shares of people who were sheltering in place (47%) reported negative mental health effects resulting from worry or stress related to coronavirus. In particular, isolation and loneliness during the pandemic may present specific mental health risks for households with adolescents and for older adults. The share of older adults (ages 65 and up) reporting negative mental health impacts has very significantly increased since March. Polling data shows that women with children under the age of 18 are more likely to report major negative mental health impacts than their male counterparts.

Research also shows that job loss is associated with increased depression, anxiety, distress, and low self-esteem and may lead to higher rates of substance use disorder and suicide. Recent polling data shows that more than half of the people who lost income or employment reported negative mental health impacts from worry or stress over coronavirus; and lower income people reported much higher rates of major negative mental health impacts compared to higher income people.

Poor mental health due to burnout among front-line workers and increased anxiety or mental illness among those with poor physical health are also concerns. Those with mental illness and substance use disorders pre-pandemic, and those newly affected, will likely require mental health and substance use services. The pandemic spotlights both existing and new barriers to accessing mental health and substance use disorder services.

In my practice, many people do not have access to consistent Wi-Fi or Internet service. During this unprecedented time of uncertainty and fear, it is likely that mental health issues and substance use disorders among people with these conditions will be exacerbated.

Embolden remains dedicated to providing access and services for medical professionals and front line personnel. The long-term effects that we are experiencing cannot be minimized.

Embolden Psychology
Embolden

Embolden offers the ADOS-2, the gold standard assessment for kids on the spectrum.

Combined with psychoeducational testing, it helps provide comprehensive information and recommendations to help children and teens six and up.

Thank you for contacting us.