Suicide rates are on the rise, and in almost every age group, researchers are seeing an increase of individuals struggling with mental health issues. How should we, as Christians, respond to the mental health crisis in our country? Today we chat with a professional counselor and a psychiatrist to get a bird’s eye view of mental health, understand how the two fields of psychology and psychiatry interact, and what we can do to move forward and help ourselves and those around us heal.
Tolu Osemwegie is a licensed professional counselor and a certified rehabilitation counselor with a private practice, Press Reset, in the Bayshore area. Originally from Nigeria, she came to the United States in 2011 and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in 2013 to obtain her master’s in rehabilitative psychology.
Matt Weinlander, a psychiatrist who received his medical degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin. He completed his psychiatric residency at the University of Michigan and is now back in Milwaukee where he opened his private practice Milwaukee Psychiatry.
- Psychology versus psychiatry: Our guests discuss the differences between the two from education and training to practice and methodology.
- The state of mental health in the United States: we explore the current state, key statistics like the fact that suicide is on the rise, particularly in young people, and how we got here.
- The power of simple solutions: When faced with a mental health problem that feels insurmountable, we often tend to think that the solution has to match in size. But sometimes something as simple as drinking more water or keeping a gratitude journal can be enough for a first step.
- Avoiding the one-size-fits-all approach to mental health: We often tend to think that bipolar disorder or depression looks like X, but each mental health issue looks vastly different from one person to the next. When sharing in someone’s struggle, try to approach the conversation without those stereotypes to really learn someone’s experience.
- Engaging with struggling people: When you see someone who is struggling, take time to ask how they are doing, how they are really doing. When you see someone who is struggling, one of the best things you can do is to not leave them alone. Even if they try to push you away, insist on staying.
A Few Mentioned Items
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline if you or someone you know is struggling with thoughts of suicide: 800-273-8255
- Suicide song by Logic featuring Alessia Cara and Khalid
- Psychology Today to find a mental health practitioner near you
- Suicide statistics from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention
Do you have thoughts or personal experiences regarding mental health that you would like to share with us? We’d love to hear from you. Find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to share your feedback on this episode.
Tolu Osemwegie: I can be in my own world and not even remember that my son is there beside me, and he can be in his own world and not need my attention, and we’re fine. If a family grows up like that, where children grow up to be teenagers and they don’t have a lot of contact with their parents who don’t have a lot of contact with them, something is happening to that child. Something is happening to that parent. Something is happening when we don’t have the interactions that we were created to have. Something is going wrong. If you connect with other people, your problem becomes lighter. You’re blessing somebody because you’re paying attention to them. I think we can do that for each other.
Dan: Hey, welcome back to the podcast, Living Uncommon. So, in today’s episode, we’re gonna be talking about hip hop and Logic. 2000 era hip hop. Is that the topic?
Michael: Is that a hip hop artist? Logic?
Dan: Logic, yeah. Is it Logic with a q? It’ll be in the show notes.
Angelina: He has a song that has the suicide hotline number in it.
Dan: It’s like part of the actual lyrics of the song. It’s like an anti-suicide song, I think.
Michael: I don’t know. I’m not well versed in hip-hop.
Angelina: It’s just a classic spelling, L-O-G-I-C.
Michael: At least, nothing new. I know some 90s. That’s the story of my life though.
Michael: I know some 90s TV.
Angelina: So, you’re not listening to any Post Malone? You don’t have any thoughts on his new album?
Michael: I can’t even look at the guy. I can’t even handle it. You know how people should be? Clean-shaven with crew cuts. That’s what I think.
Dan: Like Vanilla Ice?
Michael: Fresh and clean.
Dan: Vanilla from the 90s, right? Remember him?
Michael: I’m thinking, you know, the Everly Brothers kind of stuff. I like that.
Dan: It’s even better.
Michael: Good clean looks, good clean kids, you know what I’m saying? What happened to that? Why is that not cool anymore? Why do you have to disfigure your face with all sorts… I’m just kidding. I’m just joking.
Angelina: Is this actually the intro to the podcast?
Dan: So far, yeah. So, how’s everyone been doing?
Dan: You know, speaking of the 90s, I just saw that they announced a lot of reboots from the 90s, but they’re also going to be relaunching Saved by the Bell.
Michael: I saw that. Screech is a neighbor of ours.
Dan: So, this is completely real. I know that we tend to be a little more sarcastic on this podcast, but this is real. Screech lives where you live, where you’re at, where your home is currently.
Michael: He lives in Port Washington. He got in trouble with the law. He stabbed someone a few years ago in Port Washington.
Dan: Screech knifed someone in a bar. Not too long ago.
Michael: I saw him at the, it doesn’t exist anymore, there’s a shop in Port Washington, I saw him buying candy.
Dan: We have a good local connection to Saved by the Bell. I don’t think he’s been invited back for that.
Michael: It’s just Jessie and Slater?
Dan: Yup, Slater and Jessie. I don’t know what their real name is.
Michael: Did you watch Saved by the Bell as a kid?
Dan: For sure. It was on Saturday mornings, wasn’t it? It was kind of a late morning show on Saturdays.
Michael: For me, it was on first thing after school. I’d come home and watch a little Saved by the Bell. I remember my mom was calling me to dinner, and it was the one where Zack and Kelly were breaking up. She dated that waiter, the older waiter. Do you remember that one? I was crying. I was gonna shut the door to the TV room. I don’t want to come to dinner while watching Saved by the Bell show.
Dan: That was your first exposure to broken relationships.
Michael: Did you ever watch Saved by the Bell?
Angelina: No, because TV’s didn’t exist in my childhood.
Michael: That’s right.
Dan: It’s not too late.
Michael: It’s not worth it though.
Angelina: People are always like, “You need to go back and watch this, or learn about this,” and it’s like, “I don’t have enough time.”
Michael: There’s really nothing worth watching. It’s just a show. It’s not that important to watch TV is what I’m saying.
Dan: You’re right, although, I will swear by classic Sesame Street from when I was a kid. From the Sometimes my daughter, who’s in high school, I’ll find some youtube videos of old Sesame Street, and she’ll just laugh her head off because they’re really funny, really well done. I’m a big Jim Henson fan in general.
Angelina: That kind of ties in nicely with our episode today because..
Dan: I’m not sure how. This ought to be good…
Angelina: 13 reasons why. You’re saying that there’s no point in having television? That’s a show that’s impacted people a lot, both positively and negatively. It has caused a lot of controversy, and it’s interesting to think about in the context of our episode today, which is all about mental health from a bird’s eye view.
Dan: Is it strange that they made a second season of that show?
Angelina: Aren’t they on the third season now? I don’t know if it’s out yet, but now it feels like they’re just… like any show, you just keep going because it can make money.
Michael: I’m highly disturbed by that show. I think it’s not a great thing. From what I know about it, it’s everything that somebody who’s suicidal would fantasize would happen after suicide. There was a crush, right? Jenna liked a guy she had a crush on, and so, when she killed herself, there’s this connection all of a sudden with this guy had after the fact. There was the acknowledgment of her pain. It’s everything that people think is gonna happen. ‘I’ll kill myself, and then everyone’s gonna be really sorry, everyone’s gonna really see me, and recognize me,’ and all that stuff. I think it just feeds in. There’s been copycat cases already from it. I think it feeds into a lot of lies that people believe about their situation. There’s this whole thing that art affects people, media affects people. I think there’s no doubt that. There’s some people that say, “No, listen.” I get that you can watch something, say a violent movie or something. That’s not gonna make you necessarily violent right now, but it’s putting violent images in your mind, and it’s molding your mind. If your mind were a house, you’re letting that thing in to be with you for a while. In every encounter you have with a person, that leaves an impression on you, just like you have an encounter with a piece of media. I think people really do realize and know deep down inside how much media impacts them. I don’t think that they want to acknowledge it because, again, you gotta watch these television shows. They hold these things go close to their chest, like their friends or something, like they are real people in a way.
Angelina: Well, it’s a comfortable way to escape your life. I mean, it does potentially romanticize suicide, but I also think, as you’ll hear our guests talk about, talking about suicide is healthy and can be a good thing for someone who’s struggling to realize that people see me. I can say something, and I don’t have to be afraid of being judged. If I say to someone that I’m struggling with wanting to kill myself …
Michael: See, that’s the thing, talking about suicide is important. That should happen in conversations. People should have real people with them discussing that. Not in a sense that, “Oh, I saw this piece of media that’s colored my understanding of suicide, it’s influenced me in a certain way.” Then, you take that with you, and maybe you engage with people about it, maybe you don’t, but you’re thinking about it. That’s not the same as a conversation where you’re talking with loved ones about emotions and where you’re at psychologically. I think there’s a nuance to it.
Angelina: Well, with that, let’s listen in. We’re talking to two practitioners, a psychiatrist and a licensed professional counselor. We’re taking a bird’s-eye view at mental health. What does it look like currently? What does it look like for both of them to approach the issue as professionals? What are some things that we can do as people, who aren’t professionals, when we’re surrounded by others who are struggling with mental health. So, let’s listen in.
Welcome back to the Living Uncommon podcast. We are in the studio today with two guests, and we’re gonna be having a little bit of a conversation around mental health, and what does that look like in America? What are some things that we can learn from professionals in the field? What are some things that we can do? We’re super thankful to have some experts with us, and we have Tolu Osemwegie. She is a licensed professional counselor and a certified rehabilitation counselor with a private practice, Press Reset, in Bayshore. She is originally from Nigeria, and she came to the United States in 2011 and enrolled at the University of Wisconsin in 2013 to obtain her master’s in Rehabilitative Psychology. We’re also joined by Matt Weinlander, a psychiatrist who received his medical degree from the Medical College of Wisconsin. He completed his psychiatric residency at the University of Michigan, and is now back in Milwaukee where he opened his private practice, Milwaukee Psychiatry. So, welcome to the show you guys, and thank you for being here.
Tolu: Thank you
Angelina: To get started, if you guys can just give us a little bit of background on who you are, what your faith background is, and then, what drew you to the particular field that you’re in today. Matt, if you want to go ahead.
Matt: Yeah, sure. So, I grew up in rural Wisconsin, up by the Green Bay, Oshkosh area, and went to undergrad at Lawrence University up there. I studied biochemistry and psychology, so that was kind of where my first touch with mental health came, just in the study. I really found that fascinating. I thought I might want to do something in that field. I decided to pursue medical school. I went down to the Medical College of Wisconsin to do that, and during medical school, you get exposure to a lot of different specialties, surgery, medicine, endocrinology, that kind of stuff. During that process, I got to spend some time doing psychiatry at a supervised capacity. I just really fell in love with it. Once I finished with medical school, I went to the University of Michigan for residency, and residency varies depending on the specialty issues. For psychiatrists, it’s an additional four years of study. It really adds up. At the end of that time, you have seen a lot of the medical things that can cause mental health problems as well as a more garden-variety: depression, anxiety, ADHD, all those sorts of things that we see on a day to day basis.
Angelina: Tolu, what about you?
Tolu: When I was way younger, I used to have problems with nightmares, and just a lot of fear, and I didn’t understand it. I probably was like six, seven, eight? I was wondering what everything was about. I was curious even as a little girl trying to find answers to many things around me. I have older siblings, so, I was just always looking at them and thinking, “I don’t know if I really like this life.” It’s hard when you’re a young girl that’s wondering what is life about. I wonder why I used to think like that. That got me to be interested in other people. I wondered if people thought like me too. When I see someone, maybe they were quiet, I will be drawn to them just to ask them what’s happening, even when I didn’t know how to help them. I just fell in love with finding out how people thought. I wanted to know if they thought like me because I thought I had weird thoughts, and I didn’t know why I had weird thoughts. That was the first time I was introduced to mental health. I definitely didn’t know it was called mental health. Like you said, I’m from Nigeria, and it’s one of the developing countries. Then, when I had a chance after high school in Nigeria, after I wanted to do something related to psychology. It’s not big in Nigeria, very few schools had psychology. Then, that was in the early 90s, and even counseling was more focused on, maybe school counseling, helping students. I did something totally different from my undergrad. I did agriculture economics. I knew I wanted to connect with people. I should not forget to mention that I was born in a Christian family. As a teenager, I started finding hope. I went to youth group, and that made me think that maybe God could help me. Then, I started reading the Bible for myself, looking for answers. When I came across scriptures about, ‘do not fear,’ it excited me. I used to also be very scared just thinking that I would die. I don’t know why, I just had the fear of death. I remember a passage that I used to love that said, “I shall not die but live to declare the works of the Living God.” I stumbled on it. God was my solution for the problems I was facing in my mind that I couldn’t really explain to people. People didn’t really talk about it. Then, the curiosity to talk to other people, finding out, ‘do they have problems like that?’ When I found out that maybe somebody else was quiet, I wanted to know why are they quiet. That was what drew me to the field. In 2011, we moved to the U.S., my husband and I, and then we had a son. Then, when we moved here, my siblings, who live in the U.S., invited us. I told them I’m coming to do counseling. I need to do this. I had found out, okay, that’s what I want. I need to do this. This is what I really love. I came here, went to UW-Madison, and then I studied rehabilitation psychology with emphasis on counseling. While I was doing that, I was involved in a community just to volunteer here in the U.S. I did that in Nigeria too. I worked at the state division of vocational rehabilitation. I worked there for some years, but once I completed my clinical hours last year, I just felt the burden to do something different. What I saw in my mind, I wanted to do it. I didn’t think I could do it working where I was working with the state. Press Reset was born last year out of that desire to help people, go to what they’re thinking in their mind, but with a faith background because that helped me. I didn’t have access to medication. I didn’t have access to even a therapist.
Angelina: I think you guys both had mentioned something like this in earlier conversations about how sometimes people don’t have the language to communicate. When someone doesn’t even really know what it is that I’m feeling. They might only have one word for that, and so, they put that on there, and it’s like, ‘This is what I’m feeling.’ How do you help someone build new language to apply to whatever they’re experiencing? Or, even for someone who might be listening who’s like, ‘I feel something, but I don’t even know what it is that I’m feeling. I know that it feels like these two things that i’ve heard before.’ How do people find new language, or the right language, for what they’re experiencing?
Tolu: When they talk about it, maybe grieving. I was talking to a client today before I came. She talked about losing her grandmother four years ago, but it still hurts. Then, she pours herself into work. She works a lot. She has two jobs, and it’s stressing her out. Towards the end, we talked about finding, or expecting to be loved just because of what you do. That’s work and love. Sometimes, feeling like you’re only accepted because you do so much. No, that’s not what she told me, but underneath the thought of, ‘I have to do this. I have to do that.’ I just made that statement, and then it hit her because she never thought about it. Then, I was surprised too because I was just thinking. It wasn’t like I had the idea when she was talking, it was just a little moment. I call it a God moment. Actually, we were praying. I was praying. I said that, and I don’t know what I said it. I just prayed that God will let her know that she’s loved, even though she may do enough or not do enough. It has nothing to do with work that she is just loved. Then, she said, “I didn’t know that,” and she was crying. That’s what made her think, ‘Oh, maybe that’s a problem.’ When we talk about a situation, grieving, and as they talk, they view their own vocabulary. If I said something that’s relevant to her, she can identify, and then talk more about it, and give me the concept that I do not have because it becomes our own world, our own words. I wanted to be a detective when I was a little girl. That was the first profession I wanted to be. In my practice now, sometimes, I feel like it because I’m making them talk more about it. “What do you mean?” “Think about what you think you mean.” Then, when they’re trying to find words to talk to me, then, it’s getting to them. Sometimes, it’s just because we don’t pay attention to ourselves, that’s why we get loaded. If someone slows us down and lets us pay attention to what’s happening, then we find out that there’s a lot, and then we find words ourselves.
Angelina: Do you ever experience resistance to the ideas that you pose to people that you see? What is that like? What does that look like? How do you engage with that? If you present something and it’s met with resistance.
Matt: I hope so. I hope someone’s not in there just agreeing with everything I say, that’s probably like the worst case scenario in certain respects. Ideally, you’re creating an environment where someone can just be completely themselves, good, bad, ugly, whatever comes out. It’s just exactly how they’re feeling in that moment. I think, in that environment, it’s like a corrective experience for them. So, yes, I love it when people disagree with me and say, “No, I don’t think you really hit the nail on the head there.” Where I offer, “Well, do you think these two things are related?” They just say, “Absolutely not.” There are many reasons for that. One could be, maybe they are actually related, but they’re not ready to hear it yet. One could be, I’m completely 100% off-base, and that happens. That’s a signal to me that maybe I’m not paying attention to my assumptions enough, and maybe my filter is getting in the way of this interaction. I need to remind myself, ‘Okay, let me just sit back for a second. Let the patient teach me.’
Tolu: Or, it could also be, maybe I haven’t felt deep enough to understand what they’re saying. So, we ask more questions, definitely let them know that I respect whatever it is that is their decision. Sometimes, they understand what I’m saying perfectly, it’s just not their way. They’re not doing it. Sometimes, they don’t think, ‘That’s what I need.’ Sometimes, it looks like it’s too easy. When you hear about people going to see a therapist, people think because the problem is big, the solution has to be big. They’ve been dealing with depression for years. They feel the therapist has this mystical solution that is top-notch, that is just gonna break it down, and it’s gonna be fine. Then, I just tell them, “Wake up early in the morning and write five things that you’re thankful for everyday and share one with someone.” That’s all? Yeah! That’s gonna help you feel better in the morning, if you can start with just being thankful. It’s hard, but look for five things that you’re thankful for. I have a client who told me, “All those things you told me from January to April, I didn’t do them.” Now, she’s just telling me, “I didn’t do any of them.” I didn’t know she wasn’t doing it. She would come and act like she’s doing it, but she would tell me, “Nothing is changing, nothing is changing. I don’t know. This is not working.” She keeps coming, but she said it’s not working. Then, she just recently confessed, “I didn’t do that because I was like, ‘that’s too easy.’ Are you serious?” Now, she said, “Remember when you said this? I’m doing it now. It’s working.” She got to the end of herself, and she got tired. She said, “I’m gonna just try the simple things like drinking water more. That can really help me not to feel like everything is crazy.”
Matt: How wonderful it was that she was able to actually tell you that and to be that honest with you and say, “All that great advice you were giving me, I actually didn’t do it.” That says something about the nature of their relationship.
Angelina: I want to talk a little bit about some broad themes in mental health. This is a topic that’s top of mind in a lot of industries. A lot of people, a lot of news stories, a lot of really terrible things happening, particularly with suicide. I want to just get your thoughts on this. A lot of people say it’s so bad right now. Some people say, well, no, it’s not so bad, it’s just that we’re talking about it more, and we’re more aware of it. That makes it feel more bad. These problems have always been here. What’s your take, as professionals, on the state of mental health, particularly in the United States?
Matt: With suicide, there has been an increase in the number of suicides, especially in those under 18. It’s very clear in the data that it’s become a big problem. Why is that the problem? It’s an extremely complex question. I don’t know if I’ll be able to give you those answers. Society has changed a lot. Speed of communication has changed a lot. The problems that are being faced by people today are different than the ones that were being faced 50 years ago. I mean, there’s a lot of commonalities there, but also, a lot of differences too. Another part of it is that it is being talked about more. I think it’s a good thing. Also, in the studies, there’s no data to suggest that talking about suicide leads to more suicide. I’d talk to our patients and ask them whether they thought about suicide and try to figure out, okay, well, how far along on that path are you? That, I think, is a good thing that really helps that person get a better sense of, you know, suicide isn’t really an escape. You’re not really thinking of what it would mean to be actually dead. For some people, just talking about that is, and can be, sufficient to a certain degree. I mean, as far as, what do we do about that? Logic had a song recently with the suicide hotline number. I think that’s great. I think the more active we can be as a community, as people, and getting people to help that they need, and showing them that all these resources are out there, just call. Nothing bad comes from picking up the phone and dialing that number. I think that’s a good thing.
Angelina: I like that you said that talking about it gives people the idea that that’s not actually true. Just talking about it isn’t gonna make a more negative impact. I like that because I think that that is a common misconception that people have. If they know that someone is struggling, it’s not that it doesn’t exist and that it’ll just go away. What are some practical ways that people like us who aren’t trained in the field, or aren’t trained maybe to pick up on really nuanced signs that something is wrong, or be able to have really deep conversations and help people through that, what are what are some practical ways that we can practice compassion? Are there things that we should be looking out for that we could spot with an untrained eye when it comes to someone struggling with thoughts of suicide?
Matt: I would say, if you ever feel uncomfortable, call someone. There are professionals around that can help with that. If you ever feel like, ‘oh man, I don’t know what to do here,’ give us a call. Call the urgent care, call your primary care doctor. With the rise of all this stuff, they see it a lot. The non-emergency police law, they’ll be able to give you concrete steps of, okay, well, something really is up, and I don’t feel equipped to handle it. It’s okay. I just wanted to put in a plug for the suicide prevention hotline. The number is 1-800-273-8255. That’s 24 hours a day. If you google it, you can actually do like an online chat. If friends and family are going through some stuff and you’re not sure how to help them, you can call it and ask them for advice 24/7. It’s not only open to people who are really at their lowest point, it’s for friends and family members too. As far as, you know, what do I do when my friend starts looking depressed, is isolating a lot, things are really starting to take a turn for the worse? I’m just worried about him. Talk to him, honestly, because it’s probably the best thing you can do. “Hey, man, what’s going on? I noticed all this stuff.” It’s all, “You know, everything’s fine, just go away.” Don’t go away. Show them you’re there for them, you love them, you’re actually reaching out to make a connection. The depression is the thing that’s trying to push you away. Convince him that he’s not alone in this world. Fight the depression. Tell them no, you’re not alone, I’m literally right That’s what I would say. First and foremost, just remember he’s going through a tough time right now. Just be a nice person for him, be there in whatever capacity, even if it’s saying nothing at all. It’s okay because you can just sit there. That’s a nice reminder that they’re not alone.
Tolu: A lot of times, just the way we were made, the way we function, relationships, community, is very important. When we know that we see each other, it helps us. It just gives us this kind of joy, like somebody else sees me, knows me. We run past each other, and it was so quick. Everybody wants to do their thing. A lot of those things have increased suicide, depression, anxiety. One of the big reasons that I would say is this community is very individualized. I think social media has even made it even more individualized. The way we have all these gadgets that keep us busy. I can be in my own world and not even remember that my son is there beside me, and he can be in his own world and not need my attention, and we’re fine. If a family grows up like that, where children grow up to be teenagers and they don’t have a lot of contact with their parents who don’t have a lot of contact with them, something is happening to that child. Something is happening to that parent. We don’t know that something is happening, but something is happening when we don’t have the interactions that we were created to have. Something is going wrong. When life happens, and I know that I am not connected to people, it’s easy for me to feel like I’m by myself. It’s easy for me to want to shut down. It’s easy for me to think that if I die, nobody’s gonna notice, nobody actually cares. A lot of people who want to commit suicide always say, “Nobody will care. Nobody will miss me when i’m gone.” It’s because they’ve lived life by themselves, and it didn’t really look like people really cared. We don’t know. Maybe that would be a struggle. Just do a little extra. Put the distraction down and really connect with someone, like really connect, even with strangers. When you meet a stranger, don’t be in a hurry. If it’s one minute, say, “Hi,” very well so they know you’re really saying, “Hi,” to them. If somebody saw me enough to ask me how I’m doing, I will not commit suicide. I think, if we just have that awareness that there are people around us really there, and we’re not so much in ourselves, we’re helping them. We’re also helping ourselves. We’re helping ourselves not to be too much in our own world because that’s when you’d know all the trouble, and you feel all the pain because you’re in your own world. If you connect with other people, your problem becomes lighter because you don’t even have more time to focus on it. Then, your blessing somebody because you’re paying attention to them. I think we can do that for each other. When I was dealing with all this mental health issues, I didn’t have a therapist to go to. We didn’t have a hotline. The suicide rate in Nigeria has always been low. Recently, it’s coming up, not so much, but it’s coming up. That’s because of the globalization. Social media is everywhere now. People hear what’s happening in the Western world. They want to be like a Western world. They want to keep to themselves. That’s not how it was. That’s not how I grew up. When I grew up, we were always in each other’s business. That’s how I grew up. You can just sit down in the room for an hour and somebody’s like, “What are you doing?” You have to talk. They make you do what you don’t want to do you. Then, you forget about the fact that you were sad. I was encouraging some of my friends the other day, we need to be more in each other’s business. I don’t know that many people will like it, but it saves lives.
Angelina: When we talked before, you we’re talking about how, when you were at the university, when you would ask someone, “How are you?” and you’d say, “No, how are you really doing?” You would ask that at least two or three times.
Tolu: That’s how I always did. I think, because of my childhood and the things that I struggled with, and people didn’t know, I felt like I needed to help other people. I don’t know if they had a problem, so, I would just ask them how they are doing. They said, you know, you always ask me how I’m doing like you really want to know how I’m doing. I said, “If I didn’t want to know, I wouldn’t ask you.” If I’m gonna say, “Hi” to you, I’m really gonna say, “Hi.” I’m expecting an answer. I think it makes it better when we do that.
Angelina: It feels almost invasive, especially in our Western Way of thinking, even to start up a conversation with a stranger feels weird. I like what you said about that we have to do it because it does save lives. Even just talking with counselors at back at Concordia, you know, they said the same thing. People make deals with themselves where, it’s like, if I go out and if someone, even just one person in the hallway says, “Hi” to me, I won’t kill myself today. I think it can be something really beautiful on a campus environment where we share the responsibility to be there for each other. Obviously, that should go beyond the university. Where we’re positioned right now, we have such a beautiful opportunity to be there for these students, and student to student, and faculty and staff to students, and to really not look at my phone when I’m walking in the hallway, but to look at people and to say, “Hi,” and to ask them how they’re doing. It’s such a small thing that we can do, but it has such a big impact.
Matt: When you’re on the receiving end of that question, answer honestly. What’s the worst-case scenario from that? The most likely thing is someone’s like, “Oh, man, I’m really sorry to hear that.” I think there’s a lot of fear there of being seen, and if I’m not perfect what are they gonna think about me, and all these worries and fears that get brought up. Try it out. See what happens. Run a little experiment for yourself. Tell someone exactly how you’re feeling, or you’re thinking about stuff, and see what they do. Nine times out of ten, you grow a little closer to that person.
Angelina: I like that. Before we finish up, are there any resources that you’d recommend to someone who, whether they’re interested in mental health generally speaking, or if they have someone struggling with suicide, or if they themselves are, what are some resources that you would recommend to people who are interested in learning more about mental health?
Matt: I think the National Alliance for Mental Illness (NAMI) is a good resource. They have a greater Milwaukee chapter as well. They’re a really good resource to use in terms of, are there any providers in your area who could be of assistance? What types of insurance do they take? All those practical questions that you might not think about, right down to, what do I do if my friend is feeling down and sad? Are there any recommendations? Also call them. They’ve got people on the phone that’ll help you out with that too. I think that’s a good one. The National Suicide Hotline, like I said before, 800-273-8255, that’s a 24/7 one. Anyone can always access that.
Tolu: Psychology Today. Psychology Today will give you a list of other psychologists, psychiatrists, therapists in the Milwaukee area. There are quite a few, and they have a short bio. You can read and find out if it’s something that you want, and you can give it a call, try it out. I would say, try it out. People go for therapy, but a lot of people still don’t go for therapy. I would say, take advantage of it, and try it out. Some people said, “I don’t know if he’s gonna work.” Do the first session. If it doesn’t work, don’t come again. You don’t have to go if it doesn’t work for you, but try.
Matt: I mean, none of us get offended if it’s just not a good fit. Not everyone is gonna have a good time with everyone else. We all know that. If you try a therapist out, or a psychiatrist, and it’s just too weird, fine. If you meet with me and that’s the case, I’ll give you names and numbers because I just want you to get help.
Tolu: Or, I don’t like your accent, that’s fine. I gave you a number of someone who doesn’t have this kind of accent.
Angelina: Have people said that to you?
Tolu: No, but they said things like,“You have an accent, where is that from?” Some people like it, and some people show they don’t like it. They have to really be able to open up. If my accent won’t let them, then we should not be meeting.
Matt: The number for the Greater Milwaukee NAMI is 414-344-0447. I’m sure you can, and I want to speak for you all, but you can always call us. You can call us even if you don’t necessarily think you need a psychiatrist or whatever. We are more than happy to spend a couple of minutes on the phone troubleshooting issues with you. My number is 414-368-9024. My website is milwaukeepsychiatry.com. There is a lot of information there.
Tolu: My website is ipressreset.com. My number is 414-533-7578.
Angelina: If you’re interested in reaching out to either of our guests, we will include links to website and contact information in the show notes as well. You guys can access that there as well. Thank you guys so much for coming in. We really appreciate your insight, and your humility, and your compassion, and we look forward to getting this out to our listeners.
Tolu and Matt: Thank you.
Dan: Well, we’re back. We had a nice discussion, or Angelina had a nice discussion. Sorry. I felt like I didn’t quite contribute much. Maybe my presence in the room was enough. So, that was a good talk though. It’s good to hear two fairly different perspectives on what it looks like to be a practicing mental health professional.
Angelina: And even considering medical things that happen and how that can directly tie to mental health. What were your thoughts? Anything stand out to you guys?
Dan: I thought Tolu, it was kind of her background, right? She talked about growing up in Nigeria, and I thought she was describing her very personal story to me. I’m not a professional or anything, but to me, it sounded like how someone would describe depression. I guess, as a little kid, she felt very lonely. I had all these big questions about her emotions, and her feelings, and do other people feel the way I feel, and she felt somewhat isolated. That made me think of a couple things. One, being the way that we define and look at our mental health, that is different, right? It’s a cultural expression. She grew up in a completely non-Western context. Her experience with that looked a little different and was defined a little differently. It was interesting to her enough that she decided that she wanted to pursue it. She said there was only one University in the country that actually that had a psychology program. When she left to try to find more education, you really couldn’t find it. She had to come to the states for it.
Angelina: Even when I talked with her before the interview, she was telling me how when she was in the master’s program, there were all these things that she’s being taught, and she was already doing all of these things, but she finally had words to describe them. The way that she related to her friends, or the way she cared for the people around her, a lot of those things was what she was learning in the classroom… “Oh, that’s what you call what I do. This is what I do when I see a friend struggling.”
Dan: I thought it was interesting. She specifically called out the way we’re isolating in Western culture, especially, this will be a common theme throughout our discussion, but social media, iPhones. All these these things that have popped up in the last decade and a half or so and have really changed the face of how we interact with each other. To hear her describe the more communal aspect of living in Nigeria, you know, she said, “If you felt sad and you wanted to be alone, you went in your room. If you were there for more than an hour, everyone in your family would come in there and drag you out.” They wouldn’t let you do it because there’s not this hyper focus on the individual, and how are you personally feeling right now? I think that’s a major thing that we have to learn from non-western cultures is how to recover this communal aspect.
Michael: I’m just thinking through, it might just end up being the same thing, but do you think that..there’s no doubt that our society is individualistic and hyper individualistic right now I’d say. Does being individualistic mean that you’re not interested at all in other people? Do you know what I’m saying? You can be conceived of yourself more as an individual over against being part of a community. Does that automatically mean that you’re not engaged, you’re not empathetic towards others? I’m wondering if individualism and loss of empathy go hand in hand. They very well might.
Dan: Well, I think it comes down to how you define the self. In the West, we have a certain description of selfhood, whereas, I think, in non-western cultures, it is defined more by my kinship, or by my family group, or by my town, or my city.
Michael: It’s an economic thing too. I mean, the economic system that drives us is individualistic. The fundamental building block of capitalism is the individual. In others, there’s communal.
Dan: Now this is a critique of Capitalism.
Michael: It’s not critiquing capitalism, it’s just. It sounds like I was pounding my fist. It’s just the way it is. It’s not good or bad necessarily, that’s just the way it’s structured.
Dan: I do have a quote here from Mother Teresa, everyone’s favorite saint. She said, “If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.” That’s interesting. I think that we do, to a certain extent, we do deny our interconnectedness. I think that that does cause us a lot of pain.
Angelina: That’s why the idea of collective responsibility is really appealing to me. I, even to a stranger that I pass on the sidewalk, or in the hallway, I have a responsibility to notice them and say hello, and to say hello really well, and know that I mean it, and that I’m there, and that I’m invested in them. Related to mental health and suicide, people who are struggling with that, they go out and make deals with themselves. If I see one person today who says hi to me, I won’t kill myself today. We have responsibility to notice people. I don’t just have that responsibility to my loved ones, or to my friends, or even my immediate community, but I have it to anyone who’s around me. I think that’s a really practical way of loving your neighbor is to really see them and to hold that responsibility of caring for them. I also liked what Tolu said when she was talking about the mystery behind therapy and psychiatry, and how sometimes when the problem is so big, you think that the solution has to be equal in size. Sometimes, really simple things, like drinking water, can actually have a huge impact. When you’re faced with this huge issue, or this huge thing that you’re dealing with, and someone gives you a simple thing to do, it can feel like it’s too easy.
Dan: That was funny when she was talking about how somebody would say to her, “Oh, that thing that you asked me to do five months ago, I actually haven’t been doing that.” It would be really frustrating as a practitioner saying, “Hey, I’m the professional here. I’ve told you to do this. I thought you’re doing it.” That would be a frustrating experience.
Michael: I’m curious to get both of your opinions. By every measure, mental health issues are on the rise. You have generation Z’s riddled with anxiety and depression. Suicide rates are going up. Why? I want to know what you guys think.
Dan: We’re not trained professionals, Michael.
Michael: Well, everyone has a voice, right?
Dan: I don’t know. I mean, my kids are smack in the middle of this age range. My daughter is 17 and my son’s 11. Not only are they smack in the middle of this generational shift, they’re at the right age to be going through the emotional weight of it. In fact, there was just a suicide at my daughter’s school last week. She had one last year and one this year. It’s a somewhat more common thing that kids are dealing with. They bring in counselors to her high school. She’s at a Milwaukee Public School. They have three trained, full-time staff members that are counselors that just work with kids all day long. I don’t know how in-depth they can be, but that’s their full-time job. It’s kind of strange to see that even in a school environment, there’s such a big increase of support systems, and things like that, where you think kids are just going there to learn, but yet they’re kids that have other needs too. It doesn’t answer the question at all but…
Angelina: It’s interesting to think about. The impact of social media, and the connectedness, and if that’s one of your first ways of relating to the world, for Gen Z, they probably don’t remember a time without a phone in their hands. That has to do something to your brain, whether chemically, or emotionally, mentally, whatever.
Dan: Well, Tolu kind of touched on it when she said, “Imagine a family who is incapable of relating on an intimate human level with each other because they’re each in their own isolated spheres with their phone, or video games, or computer, or whatever the object is that kind of isolates us from each other.” You think about the various psychological experiments in the early part of the 20th century, where they did all these isolation experiments on people, and animals, and things like that, just to see how would they grow up if we isolated them from contact? So, I think that we are starting to see some of that play out in real life. Maybe it’s not as extreme as putting somebody in a pit. I think it can get there, especially emotionally. One solution, in my mind, is just deeper connection, deeper community. That’s my solution for everything.
Michael: Is there a spiritual component to this?
Dan: Yeah, definitely.
Michael: In what way?
Dan: In every way, Michael. I would never separate mental health, versus physical health, versus spiritual health. To me, that’s all one piece. It’s a holistic picture of a human being. I think that if there’s something wrong, there’s something disordered, whatever that is, I think that there’s an aspect always going to spiritual. I wouldn’t go so far as to say, “If only you prayed harder, all this would go away.” I would never say that. I don’t think many Christian psychologists would ever say, “Say these three prayers, and everything will be fine, and your problems are solved.” I do think that there’s a very real spiritual angst that goes along with whatever we’re discussing as well. Generationally, I think we’re seeing that Gen Z is very disconnected, not only from each other, but from church, from God, from notions of sacred, from notions of the divine. I think there’s a lot. I think that all plays into it.
Angelina: I think religion naturally lends itself to community. If you separate yourself from that, how do you build community?
Dan: It was that classic sociological work, Bowling Alone, right? I think it came out in the early 2000s late 90s, maybe? It’s all about the fact that all of our institutions that held us together are gone. The idea that the author talked about was the bowling league. That was a huge thing back in the old times. I know some old folks who still are in bowling leagues, and it’s a great antidote for feeling depressed, or alone, or isolated, just getting together with people. There are all kinds of clubs and things like that, but they don’t really exist much anymore. I think there are things that especially Millennials, I think they do love to just go hang out somewhere and do fun things like that. I think there’s something there. People are trying to regain that, or recover that. Obviously, I would love for the church to step up and say, “We can be a part of this too.” Not that everyone has to come to youth group and play Bible trivia all night long. Although, Bible pictionary is pretty great. I don’t know what you would draw. Yeah. I think we just solved it. Bible pictionary. To answer your question, I do think there’s a spiritual component. What about you, Michael? You haven’t diagnosed it.
Michael: I’m just observing. There’s a spiritual component, no doubt. We have a generation…I would echo what you just said with the disconnected from God, disconnected from church. They’re confused about what it means to be a Christian. I think there’s a Christian, due to the media today, when you say you’re a Christian, well, what does that mean? Or, to be spiritual. Does that mean that I’m perceived in a certain way politically and perceived in a certain way sociologically? I mean, there’s a whole lot of other things now that are…in my opinion, especially youth, make so many choices based on the aesthetic. It’s aesthetic choices. You find something that you want to step into because you like the vibe of it. What it says about you as an identifier amongst your peers and amongst society. I mean, we all make a set of choices, we think that their intellectual choices, but they’re not always. I think, with the youth, it’s even more so. I think that can be a roadblock to Christianity. I think there’s issues with that.
Dan: I appreciated Matt’s really insistence that if you know someone who’s going through difficulty, do not let them be alone. I don’t know. I thought that it was almost counter cultural in a lot of ways because we’re really taught to give people their space. If someone feels like they want to be alone, let him be alone. Who are you to impose on them? If you see someone hurting, impose. Don’t grab him and drag him around, but you should stay with them no matter what. That was a good advice.
Angelina: It’s the depression that’s pushing you away, it’s not that person.
Dan: I did pick up on that when he said that, almost like a personification of depression. This is a separate thing outside of you that’s causing this. It was interesting.
Angelina: I also appreciated the way that he approaches treatment. It’s not a one-size-fits-all in both diagnosis and treatment. The way that depression looks for one person can look very, very different for someone else. Why would we say that, “Because this person had X treatment plan, that means that that’s how all people who struggle with depression should be treated.”
Michael: Is there a thing called depression? If it manifests itself in so many different ways. The medical profession seems to categorize a lot of things as one thing when really it’s multiple different things contributing to it. It’s blanket terms.
Dan: It’s just a way that we describe a cluster of symptoms. That’s what all pathologies are. So, yes, it does both exists and doesn’t exist at the same time, Michael. It’s a paradox.
Angelina: One more thing that I really want to just mention. I think it could be really applicable just for us. Matt said that when he poses an explanation to a patient about why something’s going on, or trying to give them language to put to what they’re experiencing, they’ll sometimes push back and just say, “No, you got it completely wrong.” He said something along the lines of, “I hope I get push back because there’s no way I’m right all the time.” It just struck me that both of them had such humility in the way that they described their interactions, the way they approach mental health. I think that that’s something that we can replicate in our own interactions of letting the people around us teach us about what they’re feeling and not thinking that I know, or because of what I’m seeing, because what you’re telling me, I know exactly what it is you’re experiencing, but continuing to ask questions and letting them teach you about what they’re experiencing.
Michael: Do we have any resources you want to put out there for people that might be struggling with this?
Dan: Angelina, you talked a little bit to some people here on campus that work with the mental health clinic.
Angelina: If you’re a student here at Concordia, I would HIGHLY encourage you to use our Counseling Center. We have two really great counselors there who can help you, Dave Enters and Ann Spahr. I encourage you to take a chance and make an appointment. If you don’t like it, that doesn’t mean that therapy is wrong for you.
Michael: It’s on the Wisconsin campus. The Ann Arbor campus has capabilities to help you as well. We’re not as familiar with the specific names. If you’re not at Concordia, there are a host of other resources, churches, church groups, faith-based and not, that you can find and help encourage you to get connections and reach out to people.
Angelina: We’ll have both Matt and Tolu’s information in the show notes as well if you feel like reaching out to either one of them based on what you heard. Find a loved one that you trust, and let them know what’s going on. If you have any other thoughts, find us on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter, or at our website, livinguncommonpodcast.com. We’d love to hear from you.
Dan: All right.
Michael: We’ll talk to you later, everyone.
This podcast is brought to you by Concordia University Wisconsin and Concordia University Ann Arbor. However, the opinions and views are not meant to be official statements on their behalf.