Mental Health Affects Us All – A Conversation with Dr. O
We’ve made it to the last month of the 1st quarter. To be honest, this year seems like it is zooming by. And just as seasons change, so does the state of our health – mental health at that. It can be ridiculous juggling the stressors of the world. And with that comes the challenges of trying to balance life and health. The woes of life force many to keep going and never stop to cope, to heal, to overcome, creating more tears in the trauma already facing. But today we break the silence of how trauma affects everyone whether deemed major or small. I speak with Dr. Betrina Olivia West Al-Mahdi for an in-depth look into trauma and mental health and how to be victorious in it.
Dr. O is a U. S. Navy veteran, International Psychologist, Licensed Professional Counselor, Coach, Trauma, Diversity & Inclusion consultant, and a Human, Social, and Civil Rights Advocate and Activist. She specializes in the area of trauma recovery. She has traveled the world working with individuals, families, couples, children, and organizations, helping them identify and overcome trauma while educating and advocating for the equal rights of marginalized groups. Dr. O has dedicated her career to social justice, human rights activism, racial and cultural equality, and advocacy. Her mission is to help individuals overcome challenges, including but not limited to family or personal crises, trauma, death, loss, divorce, depression, anxiety, abuse, ADHD, behavioral issues, addiction, or complex mental health disorders. Dr. O is a subject matter expert in Mental Health Trauma, offering practical tips and strategies to help cope with school shootings, terrorism, generational trauma, racism, discrimination, abuse, police brutality, sexism, and more. She has so graciously shared her expertise with OurBlk Woman as she debunks myths concerning mental health and more.
Check out the interview below.
Mental health is a rising topic not just here in America but all over. What are some of the misconceptions you have heard surrounding mental health?
Dr. O Some misconceptions I’ve heard surrounding mental health include seeking therapy or medication means you’re “crazy,” therapy is not affordable, a therapist will diagnose you as “crazy,” and mental health therapy is not meant for people of color, only to name a few.
Some individuals believe they have never experienced trauma. Then some know they have experienced it, but because they don’t deem it as traumatic as the next person, they negate the severity of seeking counsel and recovery. In your practice, have you come across these individuals, and how do you go about encouraging the need to visit counselors, therapists, or mental health professionals?
Dr. O I have come across these individuals in my practice. As a trauma specialist, I enjoy educating individuals on trauma’s impact, even before they become my clients. For example, in my marketing materials, I explain how over 70% of the US population have or will experience a traumatic event in their lifetime! I go on to define the difference between “Big “T” trauma (Complex Trauma) and “Little “T” trauma, providing examples and ultimately explaining that regardless if the trauma is Big or Little, trauma is simply STRESS. Everyone experiences stress! I further explain how trauma occurs when stress becomes so overwhelming that it affects our daily lives, which can be depicted as depression/sadness, anxiety, anger, fear, exhaustion, personality or mood disorders, eating disorders, relationship problems, & more! Last, I explain how many of us do not realize that the root cause of our debilitating distress is due to experiencing a traumatic event in our lifetime, more than likely, in our early developmental stages of life. Therefore, I believe we all have experienced some form of trauma in our life. Because traumatic events impact everyone differently, you can not judge the severity of your need for others. You are just as important, you deserve it, and you are worth it.
I know it’s not a ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to mental health, but what are some signs of struggling with mental trauma?
Dr. O You are absolutely correct; there is not a ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to mental health; however, signs one might be struggling with mental trauma may include: negative self-talk, negative thoughts, thoughts of self-harm and/or suicide, feelings of hopelessness and helplessness, only to name a few. In addition, symptoms of depression, hypermania, and anxiety may also occur in conjunction with negative thoughts and feelings of hopelessness/helplessness.
Education is a huge part of ensuring people understand the importance of mental well-being. You are an educator and an advocate for equal rights for marginalized groups. What does that entail when traveling and sitting down with families and boards?
Dr. O To be an educator and advocate for marginalized groups, I first have to educate myself on the mental health needs of each individual culture and subculture. Next, I have to immerse myself into each culture to learn about their values, beliefs, religion, ancestry, language, music, culture, socio-economic status, and so much more before I can educate others on the intricacies that make the impact of trauma so unique based on the individual; and advocate for equity and inclusion. Then, when I sit down with families around the world, I sleep in their homes, eat their food, talk with their friends and neighbors, attend their places of worship, listen to their stories over a game of cards, or while GoGo braids my hair, sifting through rice harvested from the field, or simply by fishing all day.
I immerse myself in the communities, partnering with local Non-Government Organizations (NGOs) that provide mental health services or programs. Often, I would create or assist in making the mental health program, training course, workshop, or seminars in addition to conducting research and collecting data internationally for over 11 years on the impact of trauma on marginalized groups.
In turn, I take the information I learn and create sustainable programming, workshops, seminars, and training regarding trauma. I speak to the board regarding how trauma represents itself among marginalized groups nationally and internationally. I promote change.
What is one practical tip and/or strategy you like to leave for individuals to begin applying in their lives immediately, whether for coping or everyday maintenance for the mind?
Dr. O Just breathe. Take some time each day to breathe. Often we get so caught up in life that we do not realize just how important it is to stop and breathe. Breathing helps us to recenter ourselves. When you’re feeling anxious….breathe, angry….breathe, overwhelmed/stressed….breathe. I like to do what’s called squared breathing. If you visit my website at www.doctorointl.com and hit the subscribe like, I will send you a free recording of me teaching you squared breathing and a free daily meditation!
Be sure to take a breath today!