Eat balanced diets: There is a lot of empirical scientific evidence that diet can affect mental and emotional health. When our bodies are healthy, our minds and emotional balance are more likely to be healthy. Again, as with exercise and a more generalized work-life balance, food, even healthy food, should not be considered a cure-all, but it’s an understatement to say that healthy food helps.
As a part of my series about the “5 Things, Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Pavan Prasad, a well-regarded Chicago-based psychiatrist, who earned his M.D. at St. Matthew’s University School of Medicine (Grand Cayman) and served his Residency in Psychiatry at Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science. He and Clarity Clinic provide psychotherapy and medication management services, as well as comprehensive evaluation aimed at creating effective, individualized treatment plans that help patients determine the best course or combination of pharmacologic treatment and therapy.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Mydad was also a psychiatrist, but it’s funny. When I was younger, I never thought of it as a “sexy” career, if you will. I wanted to do something different. But years later in medical school, when I went through my rotations, I realized that I loved interacting with people and was fascinated by how medicines affected physiology and even changed it. Combined, the two of those things were fascinating. I remember, one of the defining moments that sealed the deal for me was that during my rotations, I had a patient with bipolar disorder. I treated that patient, and they got better so quickly. Seeing how treatment could turn someone’s life around when done right was very provocative and appealing.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I’d probably have to generalize here, so as not to get too specific about anything involving a patient — you understand, with privacy and related considerations — but let’s say the most interesting incidents have been those involving people who turned out to be not who they seemed, people who, as I got to know them, were nothing like their first impressions.
Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?
Again, for the sake of privacy and related considerations, I won’t get specific, but I will say sometimes the most humorous and most painful mistakes are the same and for the same reason: They can be humbling. The key lessons or takeaways in those situations often start with being careful, not presumptuous, and remembering to apply training and common sense when making decisions that involve keeping one’s life or business on track.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
So, in my case, it’s more than one person, my parents. When I wasn’t sure if I should start my own medical practice, they encouraged me to do so. My father even loaned me $20,000 to get started. Beyond their encouragement, in general, his professional advice was invaluable. Getting his take on interacting with patients was worth as much as money. To this day, I’m grateful for both types of help from my parents.
What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?
It’s important to force yourself to have balance in your life. We should know this in our space, but it can be easy to forget, as we spend so much time trying to help others find this balance in their lives. But the guidance applies to all of us, even caregivers. Find a balance in your life by working out, limiting working hours, taking vacations, etc. The point is given fair time to both sides of your life because burnout can creep up on you, and if that happens it can be harder to address after the fact than it is to keep it in check or prevent it.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Figure out your core values in your own life and translate those into your work environment. Make sure you have a very distinct mission that encapsulates what you’re trying to accomplish — again, personally and professionally — and what motivates you. And make sure this is all clear to the people who work for you. If you’re clear about your goals and drivers, your employees will feel inspired by your clarity and focus.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have a mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.
It’s funny. People often look for complicated answers to straightforward issues. My approach is the opposite. Start simple, and in that spirit, my top five, with examples, are:
- Yoga, and working out in general: Physical exercise inspires mindfulness. Mindfulness feeds focus. Focus allows us to be in a state of self-awareness so that we’re in touch with how we feel and recognize what we need — including help — and when we need it.
- Work-life balance: Again, less story, than example: But when we properly balance our time between work and the rest of our lives, it indicates that we understand all of ourselves, our whole being, is important. And it’s a sign that we care, that we care about ourselves. This is important whether we are single or childless or have families. Care for ourselves and how we spend our time is care for our loved ones and friends, as well. Some of the most well-intended hard-working people we all know find themselves with regret at different stages of their lives because they committed so much time to work that they neglected their private lives, or they didn’t commit enough serious effort to a professional dream and later realize they won’t ever know if they could have achieved it. Balance is everything.
- Recognize when self-care needs an assist: What I mean is that if you’re adhering to steps one and two, you’ll be more likely to know when your mental health concern can’t be “self-treated” by exercise and work-life balance. When you recognize that, and a problem persists, seek that assist. Seek help in the form of professional treatment.
- Eat balanced diets: There is a lot of empirical scientific evidence that diet can affect mental and emotional health. When our bodies are healthy, our minds and emotional balance are more likely to be healthy. Again, as with exercise and a more generalized work-life balance, food, even healthy food, should not be considered a cure-all, but it’s an understatement to say that healthy food helps.
- Get good sleep: Again, there’s a great deal of research that suggests appropriate amounts of sleep and quality sleep impact physical and mental and emotional wellness. Bad sleep can drive the body to chemical imbalances that negatively affect whole health.
Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.
I advise retirees to keep the structure in their lives. Lots of people have too much time on their hands and, not surprisingly, get lonely and depressed. Life structure is so important, that it’s the difference between simply staying busy post-retirement and occupying your time in a meaningful way that still inspires accomplishment. Volunteer, travel. Determine objectives and goals for both, and then plan and carry them out. If a retiree is interested in fitness, for example, I don’t encourage them to simply go to the gym. I think it’s important that they set fitness goals, engage a trainer, and take methodical steps to achieve specific fitness goals.
How about teens and pre-teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?
Again, fitness, with specific goals, is always an excellent tool. Also, I think it’s great for young people to keep a diary or journal, thought journal. They should vent in the journal when they’re upset and chronicle their successes when things are going well. Mindfulness, being in the moment, is a key element to checking anxiety, societal pressures, social media and peer pressure, and so on. , etc. Balance — not too many video games, etc. Structure, structure, structure is so important, because, like adults, teenagers and pre-teens need to have “work” and life balance, as well, with their peers, socializing, academics or even part-time jobs.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?
The Optimist. It’s basically about a person going on a journey to find themselves. When I graduated from high school, I didn’t know what I wanted to do right away. I hadn’t even considered becoming a doctor at that point and didn’t decide to pursue that path until I was halfway through college. My sister, who is an ophthalmologist, gave me that book at my high school graduation. It was really inspirational and helped me find some clarity and belief in myself. There’s a theme that says when you really want something to happen, the whole universe will conspire to make sure it comes true. And when I got that clarity, I determined, eventually, that I really wanted to become a doctor, and then specifically, a psychiatrist. That book had a fantastic impact on my life.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’d want to have greater public awareness and education about bipolar disorder because it affects so many people — five percent of the population. I choose this because so many people are misdiagnosed, given the stigmas around bipolar disorder. I believe lots of lives would be saved. More people are affected by this condition than even realize they have it. And that lack of awareness leads to a significant number of misdiagnoses. If we remove the stigmas, the misdiagnoses and treatment protocols would be reduced, and, again, lives would be saved.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
There are so many to draw from, but one of my favorites is from Winston Churchill: “The Pessimist Sees Difficulty In Every Opportunity. The Optimist Sees Opportunity In Every Difficulty.” Another favorite is from the late cowboy actor Will Rogers: “Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today.”
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
The best way is to follow Clarity Clinic’s social media channels — on Facebook, @ClarityChi, on Twitter, @ClarityClinic_, and on LinkedIn @clarity-clinic-llc/.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!