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How Can We Normalize Talking about Mental Health?
Episode 4312th May 2021 • Notes from the Backpack: A PTA Podcast • National PTA
00:00:00 00:23:57

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Let’s start talking about mental health! For too long, we’ve stigmatized mental health issues and it’s time to have open conversations with our friends and family. We talked to mental health advocate, Allison Raskin, about her personal journey and work to destigmatize these topics. She offers advice for normalizing discussions of mental health in your family and community!

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LaWanda: Welcome to Notes from the Backpack, a PTA podcast. I'm LaWanda Toney.

Helen: And, I'm Helen Westmoreland and you're listening to our mini series focused entirely on our family's mental health and wellbeing and we are still here bringing you lots of tips and strategies and information for you as a parent.

LaWanda: That's right, Helen. We really appreciate the opportunity to do this deep dive because we want to reduce the stigma around mental health issues and encourage families to feel comfortable starting these dialogues.

Helen: So, today's show's a little different listeners before we get started. We want you to take a little pause and get your kids in the room with you, because we have an incredibly awesome and famous author and connector with young people with us today.

That is Allison Raskin. She is a podcaster mental health advocate and we are super excited to have you on the show. Alison.

Allison Raskin: Thank you so much for having me.

Helen: So listeners, as your kids may already know, Allison is an author actress, director, co-creator of the YouTube channel and podcast Just Between Us with her comedy partner, Gaby Dunn. Allison has also coauthored two young adult novels and bestsellers, I Hate Everyone, But You and the sequel, Please Send Help. She's currently working towards her master's degree in clinical psychology at Pepperdine.

Allison Raskin: Thank you so much for thinking of me, and I really think it's so great to approach mental health from a family point of view, because it really does affect the whole family when someone is suffering.

Helen: Yeah. So Could you talk to our listeners, particularly our grownup listeners a little bit? Like, how have you had your own mental health journey and when did you start identifying as a mental health advocate?

Allison Raskin: Yeah. So, for me, I actually was diagnosed with OCD when I was four years old. So, while I don't remember a lot of it, my parents sure do, and they, really stepped in and recognized immediately that something was really wrong and they got me the help that I needed. And I talk about this a lot, but with children, there's this belief that like, Oh, what do you have to worry about?

You know, so sometimes these kids are suffering and they're, you know, there's biological reasons for mental illness, as much as there's, psychological and cultural and social issues as well. So some kids are just more biologically predisposed, so even if they're growing up in like a super happy healthy home. For me, I had strep throat, which activated my OCD, it's called PANDAS. If, if you want to give that at Google. And so, my parents took it really seriously and I'm really glad that they did. And, a lot of the mental health advocacy I try to do is aimed at, paying attention to what your kids are telling you, noticing changes in their behavior and, and not just saying like, Oh, well they're just acting up or they can't really have problems they're five.

Because when it's biological, it's real, and also a lot of times, kids that are experiencing potentially trauma that you're not aware of outside of the home that is causing things to happen. My initial intention with my career was to be a screenwriter. I went to USC Film School for screenwriting degree. And, then I started making stuff online, and as I just started kind of talking about my own journey with OCD, I realized that so many people resonated with that, that there wasn't necessarily as much content out there about just the day-to-day struggle of it all.

And so, over the last few years, I've really been shifting from more of just a narrative fiction screenwriter, author to I'm much more in the mental health space. And, part of that was the decision to go back to school, to get a degree in clinical psychology, just so that I can continue to write and talk about all of this stuff, but from like an even more informed point of view,

LaWanda: That's really great. You have that ability to bring light to what some people may say, a dark subject area. Why is that so important to you?

Allison Raskin: I just think that, it's part of life while we're struggling, we're also going to work, we're also forming relationships, we're having friendships, we're having fun. You know, there's obviously times in people's lives where they're really low functioning because their disorders are really getting in the way of their everyday life. But for a lot of people, it's a balance, and it's not all consuming. It's probably more consuming than you would like it to be. But, I think to be able to just talk about it as, as a component of life versus this like deep dark secret that we can only speak about in hushed tones. I think, like you said, at the beginning of the show really helps, de-stigmatize it all.

LaWanda: Yeah.

Helen: I'm curious your perspective on why that stigma exists and if it's changed at all. I can only speak from my perspective, but it feels like, in the past 10 years, like everyone I know is in therapy, right? What is your perspective on if things are changing and where they are overall as a country talking about mental health?

Allison Raskin: I think we're making great strides. I think that the younger generation gen Z is so much more comfortable talking about it. I think that now saying you go to therapy is a sign that you're taking care of yourself versus that something is quote, unquote, wrong with you. I think that the internet has probably helped a lot in terms of people feeling more comfortable, talking about things than they would face to face.

I think people who are, someone like Demi Lovato, being more open about the struggles that she deals with, also Michael Phelps, just like celebrities being more comfortable talking about it.

but I also really think that, while there has been so much, good momentum, it has still very much been within the anxiety, depression, maybe OCD sphere. Whereas, there's still so much stigma involving other disorders, like mood disorders and anything involving psychosis. And so, obviously one of my goals and hopes is that like, it all gets talked about more freely and that like, , there's better understanding of what it means to be schizophrenic and bipolar and all of these other disorders that I think still have more stigma than when your friend says, oh, I'm going to therapy because I have anxiety.

Helen: I think that's so true on like a personal note, so my brother suffers from schizophrenia and my mom, and I at different points as family members, like the general population is so scared of that disease.

Allison Raskin: Yeah, and I think it's been really hard for people to then if they do get that diagnosis to not feel, oh, I can't tell anyone about this, or I have to keep this to myself, or this is my life's now over and, a lot of that is like the media portrayals. Like we don't have good media portrayals of schizophrenia or even bipolar disorder. and this idea that like schizophrenia, people are dangerous is not really true. I think that that only is really a factor, if someone is like a paranoid schizophrenia and that's because they're, they think that their life is in danger, it's very different than I think how people perceive it.

So, hopefully they'll just be more and better psycho-education around all mental illness, moving forward.

LaWanda: Yeah, I agree. We know a lot of your audience tends to be young adults, and so if they are struggling with mental illness or have some mental health struggles. What advice do you give them to be able to talk to their family? Talk to their parents about that?

Allison Raskin: You know, I think it's really difficult, because I think mental illnesses is dealt with differently depending on what cultural background you're coming from. And so I think there has to be an awareness of that. we get a lot of, of emails and messages from listeners who feel really frustrated that their families won't take their struggles seriously. And I completely get that and I'm so thankful every day that, that my parents took mine seriously. But I think there can be a really helpful reframe in a way of the fact that just recognizing that potentially based on the way that your parents grew up, they were just not exposed to this.

The messaging that they received around mental illness was not accurate, it was harmful, in some cultures it's like, we take care of our own. We don't need to go to a professional for this kind of thing. And so, it's not really just like your mom being like, I don't believe you it's 40 years of your mom being indoctrinated into this type of thinking, so I think giving them the grace to have an adjustment period, potentially giving them some of their own education. Bringing to them books or websites or, it podcasts like this and being like, I hear where you're coming from and I understand why you think that, please, just for me, would you be willing to just explore it from this point of view?

And then, also being able to have that both and of like, I understand that they think that way. And I also understand that, that way of thinking isn't serving me and I need to get help and I need to maybe do things differently than my parents' generation did.

LaWanda: Yeah, I think that I totally agree with you, and I also think that for some generations, it's a built in guilt too, because if they have to address that there is a struggle, then what did I do wrong as a parent? Like, did I give them this? Was it a birth defect. Like I, they feel responsible and so being able to separate that is also super important.

Allison Raskin: Definitely, just going back to like, for some people it's, it's pretty biological, and also that it's okay. It's, you know, in the way that, my mom has bad knees, guess what? I have bad knees, there is a genetic component. There is intergenerational trauma. There is, like maybe there is some cause and effect, but that doesn't mean you are a bad parent, that's just life, that's just having children, you know?

LaWanda: Exactly. It's like, I remember you were on a podcast and you mentioned, if someone had type one diabetes and they had to get insulin, no, one's going to like, no one questions that, but if you had a mental illness where you needed medicine, then there's a stigma around that.

Allison Raskin: And no one's going to blame the parent because the kid has type one diabetes if the parent also has type one diabetes, do you know what I mean? We're all connected, and I think, especially in this country, there is a lot of, of trauma that I think can be passed on and that's not, and that's not the parents' fault, that's society's fault.

And so, hopefully we can start approaching things through a more trauma informed lens and, and have these interventions with children sooner. And COVID, is a, is a community trauma. It's a shared trauma, and seeing it as such and approaching it as such versus being like, no, everything's fine, we'll just bounce back, it's no big deal. Like my kid will get over it. My kid won't even remember this, you know, like, it's okay to be like, yeah, this is trauma. And now how do we heal from it? You know, collectively and as a family.

LaWanda: Yeah.

Helen: I think what you're saying is so true because it also gets at this like, there is a cultural thread that runs through America around pull yourself up by your bootstraps. It's like, it's okay, everything's okay, shake it off.

Allison Raskin: For me, I've really recently learned how to be much more comfortable asking for help. Like, I was always pretty comfortable asking my family, but I was not super comfortable asking my friends for help. And, and I just had some incidents in my life recently where my fiance abruptly left me in November and I was like, Oh, no, my life is falling apart.

And, like I had to quickly go home to New York and then have my friend, come check on my apartment and send me mail and like do all these things that I would not have normally felt comfortable asking her to do for me. but then I was like, Oh, this is such a better way to live. Like, it is so much better and healthier to just like actually rely on our support systems and to let them know like, Hey, I'm, I'm not doing well right now. Is there any way that like, you're already going to the grocery store? Could you just pick me up some groceries, and just getting to a point of, of feeling more comfortable with that and really putting energy into feeling like you're part of a community and that there's a give and take in the community and sometimes it's okay to take a little bit more when, when you need a little bit more.

And then when you have the resources you give a little bit more and not just completely like judging yourself worth, on like, well, I did it by myself, I was suffering the whole time, but I did it by myself. One of the things my psychiatrist has said that I love is, there's no reason to white knuckle your way through life.

LaWanda: I love that.

Allison Raskin: Like, there's this sense that like, oh, I'm able to do it. So therefore, I don't need to get that additional help or I don't need to take that mental health day or I don't need to try medication or I don't need to tell people that they're asking too much of me because I can do it, but you know, doing it and then like enjoying your life are two very different things.

LaWanda: Yeah. You talked about, getting emotional support and you create it and launch this new social media presence and online community call Emotional Support Lady. I love that name. I think it's awesome. Tell us more about that and how it connects to your mental health advocacy work.

, like you said in October of:

LaWanda: It is.

Helen: A universal one.

Allison Raskin: Yes, very much so, and also the trauma of how suddenly it happened and me not having any control over this huge change that happened in my life. And so, I was sort of just like kind of documenting, how I was feeling, how I was coping. And, so many people shared so many similar stories with me. And then I also launched a Patreon for Emotional Support Lady, which is like additional content, if you subscribe monthly, so there's a weekly blog on there. There's also videos twice a month that where I interview someone either like a mental health professional, or someone who talks about their own mental health journey. And, there's a community there so people can talk there. it's just been amazing., it's slowly growing, but just the community that already exists there is probably one of the things I'm most proud of that I've done.

LaWanda: That's very cool. Congratulations. That's really great.

Helen: And that's a great resource too, for listeners. If they want to go and learn more or, or their kids, right? So Allison, I. I know on Just Between Us, you had Gabby frequently start your shows with that hypothetical question. And we've got a few scenarios of our own.

Allison Raskin: Oh wow.

Helen: If you're interested in playing along, we talked to some parents and reached out to our networks and so we tried to condense them into a few things, and I think we'll put our appropriate caveat that like, this is not official therapeutic advice, but, but we'd love to get your thoughts, you game?

Allison Raskin: Okay, great. I'm in the hot seat for once.

LaWanda: Yeah.

Helen: So one is from a mom, I am a mom of an 11 year old who was recently diagnosed with OCD and she doesn't want to tell anyone any of her friends or the rest of the family. I'm trying to follow her lead, but I really wish that she would be more comfortable sharing it, because it's a lot for her to carry, and for us as a family, how can I, should I support her with this new diagnosis?

Allison Raskin: That's such an interesting question. I think it would be really helpful for her to see other people actively talking about having it. I mean, my content is maybe not meant for 11 year olds, but like I think that there, you know, there is definitely some stuff I've done and written that is totally 11 year old appropriate. But I think just like, seeing people that are living full lives and having successful lives, who also have OCD. So many successful people have OCD, like people who have changed the world have had OCD. And so, I think maybe sitting with her and maybe like having a little OCD party of going through all the different people who've impacted the world in amazing ways.

I think on YouTube and online, there's going to be some younger people who talk about it and are open about it. And I don't think there's any need to really rush her. But, I think that the more that, she's aware, how common, a disorder that this is and how it doesn't need to be a source of shame. And if, and if you're able to talk about it, like the way you would talk about like, Oh yeah, we've got to like go to PT not talking about it, like, this is big, heavy thing, but just like just this thing we have to address in your life, and it sucks and it's annoying.

And like, obviously you wish you didn't have it because like, nobody wants to be sick, but like, we're going to deal with it and it's, and it's not going to control you. It's not, it's not all of you. I think also for me, like. separating out, that this does not define you, that this is like an illness, and mental illness is tricky because it, it impacts your personality in ways that maybe physical illnesses do not.

But, you are different than your disorder. You have OCD, you are not OCD. So I think like, even choosing your words correctly helps a lot. But, I think just exposure to how widespread this thing is and how many people are living and flourishing with it. And, hopefully slowly over time she'll become more comfortable.

LaWanda: Yeah. That's. That is great advice. Okay. Are you game for another one?

Allison Raskin: Oh yeah. I could do this all day.

LaWanda: Okay, cool. It says I'm a 16-year-old and recently my parents and I talked about my anxiety and I started seeing a therapist. I'm glad they want to normalize talking about these issues, but now they ask me about my feelings all the time and it's really awkward. What should I do?

Allison Raskin: I think it's like one of those things where it's like, so you've opened this door and then it's like, how much do you talk about it? I think it's like, anything else, it's a balance. So, I think when you're in the mood to talk about it, or when you're going through something, then it's amazing that you have your parents as this resource.

But, I think you're also allowed to say, I'm fine right now. I just want to watch TV, , making sure that it doesn't take over your whole life and that, it, isn't the only way that you feel like the only thing you're communicating with them about. Yeah. But I think gratitude might really help, just the gratitude that there are so many kids out there that parents wouldn't do this.

Who wouldn't let them go to therapy, who wouldn't be open to talking about this. And, and just recognizing, I know it's hard when we're younger, but recognizing that like our parents are people too, and that they're doing their best and that, like, this is an adjustment period for everybody and that you guys will probably find your footing. There might just need to be like some communication of, I'll let you know if I need to talk about this or like maybe setting up weekly check-ins versus like eight check-ins a day. And just allowing that they're trying too, they don't know all the answers. Just like you don’t know all the answers, but the fact that they're trying is so wonderful.

LaWanda: We don't know all the answers we try. But yeah, I agree with you totally, because I could totally see myself being that parent. Like, are you okay? Do you want to talk about it? What happened at school today?

Helen: I noticed you didn't eat all your food.

LaWanda: And not, and not doing it on purpose. Just being, making sure that everything's okay. So I'm glad you said that. And if Caleb ever tells me to shut it down, I will remember this and shut it all the way down.

Helen: Okay. The last one, I'm a dad of twin 10 year old girls and my brother has been struggling with bipolar disorder, I don't want my twins to feel overwhelmed by this, but I don't want to hide it. How do I talk to them also curious Allison, like what is the right age? So I have a, almost three year old at home and we, I, part of the reason I wanted this scenario was because my mom and I have been trying to figure out, like, how do we talk to her about my brother?

Allison Raskin: Such a good question. I think it's less about the specifics of the disorder and more about the empathy. So, just like teaching them that like, this person that we love is sick. And that sickness kind of shows itself in ways that maybe we're not used to just in like the way that like, you know, maybe when we had to visit grandma at the hospital or, you know, some, some reference point, but like we love them. We care for them they're, you know, we. And, and just like, we would love you and care for you if you ever got sick.

Obviously every kid is at a different level developmentally in terms of like what they're going to comprehend and not comprehend about like mania versus like all these things. But, I think just like the approach of like, look like uncle Steve is, is not feeling well lately, and so that's why I have to kind of go and spend some more time with uncle Steve, but like, he loves you. I love you, and this is what families do.

Families take care of each other and just we will take care of you no matter what. And sort of putting it in that light, just keeping it to they're struggling, but we're going to be there for them, and then I think that that makes it less scary.

Helen: It’s more about your tone. I think that's so true that like pick up on that. If you're like, this is normal and this is what we do and we care about them as opposed to like, we don't want to scare you.

LaWanda: Right, right. Okay. You just scared me. Yeah.

Allison Raskin: It's all about the normalizing it, right? Because, we're not taught to fear things unless someone says, oh, be afraid of that. You know?

LaWanda: That's great. Okay. So you did awesome on our scenario, just to be clear.

Allison Raskin: I did. Okay. You got a good, good score?

LaWanda: Yes, grade A from here. LaWanda: Allison, thank you so much for joining us.

Allison Raskin: Of course.

LaWanda: We really enjoyed hearing your perspective and I know I've learned so much from you, so thank you.

Allison Raskin: Thank you. My mom's going to be so proud of me that I did this.

LaWanda: So before we wrap up, are there any resources available that you might suggest to our listeners?

Allison Raskin: I think there's just so much out there. The International OCD Foundation is a great resource, it can be really hard to find the right therapist. And so, there's some resources online, like Inclusivetherapists.com that it's like kind of about matching the right therapist with you in terms of like your cultural background and what you're looking for.

And there's also, online resources, like BetterHelp, where you can get connected with a therapist just pretty immediately, which is, which is really nice. Cause I know, especially right now, a lot of therapists are pretty slammed and don't have a lot of availability. And, then on my end if you would like to follow @EmotionalSupportLady on Instagram or the Patreon page. Don't be afraid to look for resources and help because there's a lot available to you when you put in the time to look.

LaWanda: Thank you, and to those of you listening at home, thank you for joining us for more resources related to today's episode, check out notesfromthebackpack.com. We also want to share with you National PTA has created a mental health resource webpage for parents, students, and educators. Learn more at pta.org/healthyminds.

Helen: If you're listening and you enjoyed today's episode, we want to encourage you to leave us a review at a rating, we read those, they are very valuable to us and it helps us continue to bring you some good stuff. So, thanks all for tuning in and we will talk to you next time.

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