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Mental Health Awareness Q&A with David Susman, PhD

 

Mental health awareness is a term that we are hearing more and more these days- and May is an important month for us mental health advocates!

 

In Canada, the first week of May is designated as Mental Health Week, which was first introduced in 1951 by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) and has become a yearly tradition ever since. In the US, May is Mental Health Month, launched by Mental Health America in 1949, is a whole month dedicated to mental health awareness.

 

The CMHA uses the hashtag, #GETLOUD every year to encourage people to provide support, fight stigma, spread awareness and education and speak out about mental health. For Mental Health Month, common hashtags used include #MHM2017, #mentalhealth, #mentalhealthmatters, #mentalhealthawareness and #endthestigma. Much like Mental Health Week, Mental Health Month is meant to encourage a conversation about mental health, to educate, share resources and work towards ending stigma.

 

Last year, on behalf of IBPF as part of my effort to educate others and raise awareness, I reached out to David Susman, PhD, a psychologist and a mental health advocate to answer some questions for Mental Health Month.

This year, I decided to see if he would agree to participate in another Q&A for the readers of International Bipolar Foundation’s blog- and here it is:

Do you believe that by sharing their stories, celebrities are helping to fight stigma?

Yes, absolutely. Celebrities have a large platform so anything they share gets a lot of attention. Some notable recent examples of celebrities and public figures who have stepped up to raise awareness about mental health issues are Demi Lovato, Patrick Kennedy and the Royal Family (Princes William and Harry and Princess Kate).

Do you think that portrayals of mental illness on television series and in movies have changed in recent years?

Yes and no. There are still many inaccurate, outdated and stereotyped media portrayals which only reinforce the stigma and fear associated with mental illness. However, there are some more accurate and nuanced characters (like Bradley Cooper in the film “Silver Linings Playbook” or Claire Danes in the TV series “Homeland”) which show how someone can manage a chronic mental illness. There is also all of the recent publicity about the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why,” which has received very mixed reviews about how it portrays issues related to bullying, sexual violence and suicide.

In your opinion, has there been progress in the fight against stigma?

Overall, yes. So many more people, especially young people, are speaking up about their personal journeys and challenges related to mental health issues. Also, there are many incredible mental health advocates and organizations doing great work to promote greater awareness and education around these important issues. 

There is hope to integrate physical and mental health care in the US; do you feel that this action will decrease stigma?

The last time I checked my head was still attached to the rest of my body. I say this a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it only makes sense that we integrate mental health and physical health care, as the two are intricately related. The more we can help people understand that managing a mental illness isn’t that different from managing diabetes or high blood pressure, the more “normal” people will feel about having mental health conditions.

Do you think progress has been made in terms of “apps” for depression, anxiety, mindfulness, mood tracking, etc.?

There has certainly been an explosion of mental health-related apps in recent years, but as in all things, some are very good and some aren’t so great. The trick then, is figuring out which ones have been proven to be effective. I think we’re still early in the process of doing research to show which apps really work versus the ones that aren’t that helpful. But this line of research is developing and we should have more definitive findings over the next few years.

Are there any apps you would recommend?

I’ve been particularly impressed with the group of apps developed by the National Center for Telehealth and Technology. These apps were developed primarily for active military personnel and veterans, but certainly are also useful for others. I’m most familiar with their “Virtual Hope Box” app, which is used to reduce distress and facilitate healthy coping skills. 

How do you think we can create an open conversation about mental health?

Keep talking, sharing, supporting, validating, encouraging, hoping, advocating, educating. Repeat.

How important is self-care to mental health and how would you encourage a person to make-time for self-care?

Self-care is so vital for both mental health and physical health. There’s no one-size-fits-all strategy for self-care. You have to experiment and find what works for you. A few things to try out include relaxation, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, physical activity, healthy eating, getting together with friends, reading, traveling, spiritual pursuits, humor, and learning a new interest or hobby. Once you find something you like, put it on your weekly schedule and treat it just like a meeting or class you have to attend.

How important is practicing proper sleep hygiene for mental health and do you have any tips for sleep hygiene or for people who have sleep difficulties?

Not getting enough sleep can really wreck you physically and mentally. Conversely, if you get adequate sleep and rest, you will not only feel much better but it can help you keep a host of related problems like weight gain, fatigue and depression at bay. I summarized the standard sleep hygiene tips in this blog post.  

Do you have any tips for staying well while dealing with the stress, challenges and uncertainty of traveling?

I was actually just thinking about writing a post on “low stress travel.” A few of the tips I thought of include: allow plenty of time (when changing planes or getting to a destination), stay hydrated, try something new, be flexible when faced with delays, and decide in advance if you want a lot of structure in your schedule or if you would rather be more spontaneous.  

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I want to thank David Susman for his time and insight on behalf of International Bipolar Foundation. I hope that those of you reading this found this information useful and helpful.

About David Susman:

David Susman, PhD is a clinical psychologist, college professor and mental health advocate in Lexington, Kentucky, USA. He blogs about mental health, wellness, and recovery at www.davidsusman.com, where he also features true "Stories of Hope" from individuals who share their personal mental health journeys. You can connect with him on TwitterFacebook, or LinkedIn.

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