Mental Health Awareness - 05/16/21 - Segment 1
ROBBIE OWENS: Hello, I'm Robbie Owens, and this is "To the Point." May is Mental Health Awareness Month. In any given year, one in five people live with some type of mental illness-- that's according to the group Mental Health America. And during the pandemic, the numbers have been going up. During this program, we will tell you about available resources and also provide some phone numbers, so be ready with a pen and paper if you want to write them down. Brooke Katz starts our conversation with Kenleigh McMinn, a psychologist at Baylor University Medical Center.
KENLEIGH MCMINN: Self-care can easily become one of those things that just feels like another item on our to-do list. I think it's so important that we're able to do it. Though, I often use the metaphor of, you know, when you're on an airplane, when you're traveling with somebody, they always tell you, OK, if the oxygen things fall, like, you're supposed to put your mask on yourself first and then help the person next to you. It's really that idea that we can't do all the things that we need to do and take care of all the people in our lives that we might need to take care of if we're not first taking care of ourselves. So it really is just one of those things that is so imperative, so important, and has such wide-ranging benefits.
BROOKE KATZ: You know, and I know during the pandemic, we've talked in previous stories about how there is sort of this mental health crisis that is going on. As we kind of navigate this pandemic landscape, obviously things are getting better, but what are some things that people can do to kind of help themselves during this time?
KENLEIGH MCMINN: Absolutely. Yeah, the research that's coming out is showing huge, like, increasing rates of things like depression, anxiety. I think the biggest thing that people can do is, like, start small, start at the bottom. Think about wellness like you're building a house.
So you know when you're first building a house, you have to put on a steady foundation layer. And so when I think about that with health, think about the super basics like, are you getting enough sleep, are you drinking enough water, are you eating enough food that's nutritious enough that it's able to kind of fuel your body, are you getting enough physical activity? Because if we don't have those really basic things in place that I think we just kind of overlook and forget about sometimes-- but if we don't have those, anything we build on is going to be built on kind of a shaky foundation.
So starting with those things and then building from there, finding activities that you really truly enjoy. I think a lot of what's happened in the pandemic, too, is we've just kind of got stuck in autopilot. The routine can get really monotonous. But finding something and really bringing attention to it of like, OK, I'm going to watch this TV show or whatever it is, but I'm going to do it with the intention of, like, this is a show that I really enjoy that makes me happy. Not just, I'm going to put on the TV show because it's what I do at night and there's nothing else to do. So figuring out ways that you really bring attention to your everyday activities is also really important.
BROOKE KATZ: Yeah, how important is it to just, like, take that time to focus on the moment? Because I know so often we're worrying about the future or worrying about what happened--
KENLEIGH MCMINN: Yes.
BROOKE KATZ: --and we're not focusing on the here and the now.
KENLEIGH MCMINN: Yeah, so, so important-- so mindfulness has kind of gotten to be sort of a, like, pop psychology buzzword that's become really popular here, especially in the last few years. But there is so much research out there that shows the benefits of mindfulness. So mindfulness being, essentially, just like the opposite of that autopilot feeling where, like you said, you're really just taking that time to be in the moment, not worrying about what's going to happen or what's already happened.
The benefits are huge. There's lots of research showing that it affects, like, just overall mood, but also your attention, your ability to stay focused, your ability to kind of be open in your relationships. It can be difficult to do. I think a lot of people imagine they have to create this, like, one-hour-a-day meditation practice, or something like that. It does not have to be anything near that formal.
It can be as little as, like, taking 30 seconds when you pull up the car somewhere. Like when you're getting home from work, maybe, to take 30 seconds and just do some deep breathing or focus on your breath. Or maybe before you go to bed, you do a breathing exercise. There's also some great free apps out there that people can utilize, if this is something that's brand new, that can kind of help teach you and walk you through those things.
ROBBIE OWENS: Now we're going to pause the interview for a minute to talk about some of those apps. InsightTimer is a meditation app with access to thousands of free meditation and music tracks. Calm was Apple's app of the year in 2017. It also features music to help a person focus, relax, and sleep.
Headspace features 3-minute sessions with an emphasis on guided meditations. MindShift promotes ways to manage anxiety with strategies based on cognitive behavioral therapy. And finally, Smiling Mind, which is an app designed for all ages with ways to relax and regulate emotions. We continue the conversation with Dr. McMinn focusing now on the stigma associated with mental health and the challenge of simply opening up about the issue.
KENLEIGH MCMINN: Well, society has gotten better about kind of talking more about it-- like the fact that you and I are having this conversation right now makes me so happy. But absolutely, there still needs to be this message that it's OK to not be OK. We are humans. We are not machines. We are not designed to just be completely OK all the time.
And we are in completely unforeseen territory right now. None of us really know kind of exactly how to navigate all of this. And so I think it's so crucial. Even if it's not to the point that people are ready to maybe ask for professional help with reaching out to a therapist or a psychiatrist, even just letting maybe a friend know, like, hey, I had kind of a tough day today. Or like, hey, this is really starting to wear on me. Even just kind of opening that door a little bit and sharing with somebody can go a really long way.
BROOKE KATZ: At what point should people start considering maybe seeking professional help?
KENLEIGH MCMINN: Absolutely. I think it's really important that people-- if you're noticing the way that you're feeling, whether that's feeling really down or feeling really worried and anxious-- if that's starting to really happen every single day and if it's getting to a point where it's kind of affecting your day-to-day activities, so if it's impairing your ability to get up and get out of bed and go to work, or take care of kids or do working from home, that's when it's really becoming maybe more of a clinical diagnosis and that's when it might be really beneficial to reach out for some professional help.
BROOKE KATZ: I think what's hard for a lot of people is they feel like they should just be able to self-motivate. Like that's-- it's not-- I should be able to pull myself out of this.
KENLEIGH MCMINN: Yeah.
BROOKE KATZ: Why is it so much more complicated than that?
KENLEIGH MCMINN: I think it just goes back to this idea that, like, again, we are humans and we, just as a society, as a people, are under so much constant stress right now. This-- in addition to it being just a generally stressful time with the pandemic and everything else that's going on, we, living in the 21st century, have so much more access to all of that. So we get pop-ups, alerts on our phone, or on our computer. We get emails every 10 seconds that are coming in.
So we're just kind of constantly bombarded. We're not getting as much of a break as we used to. And I think the expectation that maybe some of us grew up of, like, you just got to keep going. You've got to push through. While that can absolutely be valid, it just isn't always applicable. There's just too much sometimes.
And so I think it's completely fair to do that self-check and step back and say, you know what? This might actually be a little bit too much for me. I don't need to try to take this on right now. Let me take it just in baby steps instead.
BROOKE KATZ: Let's talk a little bit about warning signs, and what maybe friends and neighbors can be on the lookout for that somebody might be in mental distress.
KENLEIGH MCMINN: Sure. I think one of the big things that's come up, especially during the pandemic, has been increased substance use. So whether that be alcohol, smoking, any other like illicit drug use-- if you notice that you, or a friend, or a loved one has started engaging in those behaviors, or you're doing it a lot more than you maybe were before, that's always kind of a red flag, a warning sign. We never want that to be a go-to coping skill that somebody is using.
So that would be one. I think any, just, changes in personality. If you just notice that somebody is just really not themselves, I think that's always another just sort of key to look in and just sort of say, yeah, maybe something is going on there and maybe it's worth just checking on them and asking them really how they're doing.
BROOKE KATZ: And I think sometimes people get a little bit skittish about prying and they don't want to ask too many personal questions.
KENLEIGH MCMINN: Yeah.
BROOKE KATZ: They're afraid it will be taken wrong. How can you check in on somebody without overstepping?
KENLEIGH MCMINN: Great question. I think it can be so, so tough. I think the easiest way is just ask somebody like, hey, how are you doing? I mean, we so often ask each other that and we expect the answer from the other person to be, like, oh, I'm fine. And then you just kind of go on with your day and it's just-- it's just very perfunctory. But I think if you really take the time to be like, hey, like, I've noticed that things have been really tough lately. Like, how have you been doing?
Maybe even kind of volunteering how you've been doing, if you find that you've been struggling. Sometimes sort of opening up and sharing your own lets that person know that that door is open for them to share. But it can still be really hard. There are still going to be people who just don't feel comfortable. But at least you're letting them know that you're there.
ROBBIE OWENS: One county addressing mental health when police get the call-- the program that could help some people avoid jail, while getting the help they need-- that's next. And during the program, we will give you numbers to call to reach out to a mental health professional. This is the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number-- 1-800-273-TALK. That's 1-800-273-8255 to get immediate help in a crisis.