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Mental Health Q&A | Increasing awareness, reducing stigma in Kansas City key

Posted: 5:00 PM, May 16, 2024
Updated: 2024-05-16 18:25:28-04
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Editor's Note: This story is part of a series of stories, "Are You OK?" from KSHB 41 News and the KSHB 41 Community Advisory Board during Mental Health Awareness Month. Additional mental health resources are available in Kansas and Missouri. Help is always available by dialing 988.

On Thursday, Emily Sterk, a licensed clinical marriage and family therapist and founder of Healing Toward Wellness, stopped by KSHB 41, as part of our coverage of mental health.

KSHB 41 anchor Caitlin Knute reached out on our Instagram page to ask Kansas City what questions they have on the topic, and we asked Emily her thoughts. The following Q&A is edited for clarity.

VOICE FOR EVERYONE | Share your voice with KSHB 41’s Caitlin Knute

Question: How can we encourage people to seek help?
Emily: Be curious as to why the person doesn’t want to seek support, you know? What the resistant is, and be really, really curious, like genuinely wanting to learn why.

And then I think the second part is, share your experience. Instead of just telling someone, oh, you need to go to therapy or you need to talk to someone, maybe be vulnerable and share how it has helped or supported you.

The best thing we can do is meet people where they are, and if they don't want to seek support, that's OK, you can be a support and a friend to them and just keep sharing your experience.

Question: How can we avoid envy when everyone seems so happy on social media?
Emily: Social media is a highlight reel. So those :15, :30 they post – 1, we have no idea how many hours were put into those :15, and we don’t know what’s going on in the rest of their life other than those :15 to :30 clips. It’s not that it’s not real or genuine or anything like that, we just don’t know.

Social media is meant to be community. If you are following people – if you are only watching videos or reading threads that don’t build community, my encouragement would be, probably unfollow. We don’t owe anyone a follow, so you can just click it, it’s fine.

When it comes to having envy of other peoples’ stories or what they post, one, does it match your values? Does it help you grow in any way or feel at peace in any way? If not, and you’re feeling envy, they’re probably not the people for you, so I would just go ahead and unfollow.

Question: How can we practice more mindfulness in an over-stimulated, busy world?
Emily: There's a few things to think about. One, do just an inventory of what is going on in your life: What are the thoughts and feelings that you're having? Are you taking in too much information? Are you watching too much on social media? Are you watching too much news that you're not giving your brain a break for rest?

Maybe we need to delegate out, maybe we need to ask for support. So when it comes to mindfulness, we can do the things: what’s your body telling you? How are your emotions showing up in your body and what are those feelings? Or we could pay attention to our senses – what are we feeling, what are we hearing, what are we seeing? And what are the things that we need to do that really remove what the stress is?

Rest is a part of the process, not the reward to the process.

Mindfulness is hard because everyone will have a different answer but I tend to go to those things: be curious about where the stress is coming from, what does mindfulness mean to you, and then the theory of subtraction and rearranging where our life is, and that just might be hard because it’s hard for people to do that.

Question: What would you say about more holistic approaches to mental health that go beyond the diagnostic statistical manual (DSM)?
Emily: I think it’s becoming more popular here in Kansas City. You are seeing many therapists and many therapy groups go the holistic route, where they’re not necessarily going the diagnostic or DSM route. We take it into account because that is our training and the pro to diagnosis is it gives validity to where people are struggling. But yes, I would agree that a majority of therapists do come from a holistic route.

What is your body telling you? How are your emotions showing up in your body? Are you getting back to nature? Are you walking outside, drinking water, being in sunlight? I think more holistic approaches are, what is your body telling you vs. what is wrong with your body.

How we do it at Healing Towards Wellness is, we look at how is your nutritional health? How is your physical health? How is your mental, psychological, how is your financial health? And we look at all of those and how those play a part in your life and then where you need support, we’ll tap into that.

Question: How can you protect your mental health when you can’t avoid whatever is triggering your issues? How do you take care of your mental health when you can’t completely shut off all the time?
Emily: You need to have support. Do you have a therapist? Do you have a tribe or a community around you?

Family members, a partner, friends? Do you have a community whether it’s a church or a pickleball league or whoever, honestly, that you know that you can go and say, hey, that was work here, it’s important, my feelings are valid, and I can go here and again, kind of like that theory of subtraction, I’m able to just rest my brain.

To be able to do your job well, like any of us in jobs that deal with tragedy, is we need to keep ourselves in check if we are OK. If there is a moment where, hey, this is becoming too much, you’re allowed to take a break and figure out what taking a break can look like because we know that can be hard.

Question: What are tips for people who want to relieve anxiety that comes on quickly? Are there any immediate things you can do if you feel anxiety flooding your system?
Emily: A lot of people will be like, oh, square breathing or taking big breaths or drinking water. All of those are good, it’s really finding what’s best for you.

You pick the senses, and you tend to pick the easier ones. What are five things I can see or four things I can hear or three things I can touch or two things I can smell and one thing I can taste? You do those and you say it out loud and you start touching and you’re honing in on internally what your body is needing to just calm down, but you’re letting your body do the work for you to let the senses calm that nervous system down.

Do you need to go just touch the earth? Do you need to go for a walk? Do you need to, depending on the weather, go for a swim and things like that?

When people really struggle with high, high anxiety or have panic attacks, there’s research that shows chewing and sucking on sour candy can also help because it just jolts the system. And so maybe having sour candy or even cinnamon gum or something like that because it’s a form of a distraction to calm that nervous system down.

Question: How far along do you think we are as a community putting mental health issues at the forefront?
Emily: I think our mental health community here in Kansas City is wonderful and they’re getting their feet wet. But I think we have a lot of work to do in lowering stigma and increasing resources for people who struggle with the higher crises diagnoses.

As a society, as a culture, how do we view mental health? And there’s still so much judgment around it that people are afraid to ask for help or they don’t know how to ask for help or there’s frankly not enough resources.

We are more holistic versus diagnostic and we’re having more conversations and burnout is being talked about. I love Gen Z’ers because they’re like, oh man, my therapist said this the other day, which is really cool.

But I still think we have a long way to go to lower the stigma and the stereotypes that come with mental health.

Question: What are some tips for people who want to access mental health care, but maybe they can’t afford it?
Emily: We always encourage to use your community. Is there someone you feel comfortable and safe with that you can ask, 'Hey, I’m needing extra support?'" So I think using your tribe, using your community first and foremost.

You can put things in the search bar like less than $100 or affordable or pro-bono.

Interns are phenomenal. They are excited, they are in school, they have plenty of supervisors above them that are taking care of them, and they tend to be at an affordable cost. There are many, many interns in Kansas City.

I think it’s also finding therapists who have sliding scales and just asking. You might call them on the phone and they might say, hey, this is my cost, and that might be out of range. Ask – do they have pro bono spots? Do they have scholarship spots and a sliding scale? And if they don’t, we will happily find someone who will be the right fit because finances can be such a barrier for people to seek support.

Question: Anything else?
Emily: Are you checking in with yourself and being honest with what you need? Do you have a community that you can ask and you can reach out to? Because you can go to therapy and you can do all of that work and we really want that to happen. But really, we want you to have a community that you can feel safe in.

Things are just hard right now, just all around, and so – do people feel like they can take a day off, can they take a break? And with that does come privilege, so we do get that, and that’s where then, do we delegate?

When people think burnout, oh, so I’m just supposed to take a sabbatical? No, but we might need to take a morning or we need to go grab a book and go to our favorite local coffee shop and read for a little bit and things like that.